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Ventura eases into cable show

May 19, 2003|Elizabeth Jensen | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — With little fanfare, former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura last week officially began the run-up to the summer debut of his new MSNBC show, which is getting what's known in the business as a "soft launch."

How soft? His first report Thursday, which lasted a few minutes and appeared during the 6 p.m. hour now anchored by Lester Holt, ran under a "Hero of the Week" label and was about an Orange County woman who saved a life by performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

The third-place cable network is taking a cue from last summer's brassy beginning of Phil Donahue's prime-time show, which quickly failed despite the extensive publicity. This time around, MSNBC's plan is to gradually break Ventura into the world of nightly television, getting him comfortable with the audience and vice versa.

Similarly, MSNBC slipped two other new evening talk hosts, Keith Olbermann and Joe Scarborough, on the air with little notice during the Iraq war, and moved "Hardball With Chris Matthews" to an earlier time.

Ventura's next report is scheduled to air Wednesday, also during Holt's show. Over the next couple of months, the number of such reports will increase, and eventually -- MSNBC executives won't say exactly when -- Holt's current time slot will be completely taken over by "Jesse Ventura Live." Holt, whose prime time show was created during the Iraq war, will continue to host "Lester Holt Live," which airs locally from 1 to 3 p.m., and he'll continue to anchor breaking news coverage.

Aside from the un-hyped launch, much about Ventura's program will be different. For one, he's going to do it from St. Paul, Minn., not the MSNBC studios in Secaucus, N.J., or in Burbank, where the show was initially going to be based, until Ventura changed his mind.

As for topics, according to the MSNBC Web site, Ventura's producers are trolling for breaches in homeland security, for viewers who have been "wronged or scammed by local business or government," or for those who feel they "haven't been given a fair share." Ventura, according to the site, will chase down the safety concerns and "wants to be your advocate" when it comes to being wronged. "Drop a note, share your story, and we may send Jesse to come fight for you!" the Web site promises.

The program is also expected to include a panel of guests from culture and politics, similar to the one on Bill Maher's canceled show, "Politically Incorrect."

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