MSNBC ratings dip without Olbermann

How's MSNBC doing post-Olbermann? The early numbers are down.

Following the sudden departure of the mercurial host of "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" one week ago tonight, "Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell" moved into its place on the schedule. O'Donnell, a former U.S. Senate aide, "West Wing" producer and fill-in host on "Countdown," got his own MSNBC show late last year.

O'Donnell should have benefited from both Monday's show, when weekend media coverage — and the fact that the show was still listed as "Countdown" by most DVRs — drew a crowd to MSNBC. Tuesday's show led into the State of the Union address, which should've helped as well.

Yet ratings sagged for O'Donnell compared with the week before, according to same-day Nielsen figures that Brad Adgate of Horizon Media ran at my request.

Some 332,000 viewers in the prime 25-to-54-year-old demographic watched "Last Word" on Monday, less than Olbermann one week earlier. That number rose only slightly on SOTU night, to 359,000 viewers in the demo (compared with 260,000 the week before). And then Wednesday's show drew just 219,000 viewers ages 25-54 compared with 248,000 for "Countdown" one week prior.

More ominous for MSNBC is this: CNN's "Parker Spitzer," which was routinely trounced by "Countdown," looks competitive against "Last Word." In the 25-54 demographic favored by advertisers, "Parker Spitzer" came within 50,000 viewers of "Last Word" on Wednesday. One week earlier, with Olbermann still on at 8 p.m, the gap was nearly 2-to-1.

"Last Word" did get a lift on Monday in total viewers, drawing 1.53 million people to its first broadcast in the new time period. But only 1.34 million tuned in the next night and 1.08 million on Wednesday, which suggests that the viewers who were going to sample the new guy's show already have.

By comparison, "Parker Spitzer" is drawing an audience less than half that size yet competing in the demo. This suggests that CNN is poised for a comeback very much along the lines of what Olbermann engineered at MSNBC, ignoring total viewership and just targeting those all-important 25-54 viewers.

Indeed, that was already happening at 9 p.m., where CNN has got its groove back thanks to a new host. "Piers Morgan Tonight" beat Rachel Maddow four out of five nights last week in the key demographic — and that was with Olbermann as her lead-in.

UPDATE: "Piers Morgan" ratings take a tumble on Thursday

Of course, we've been waiting for CNN to stage a comeback since the Clinton Administration. But with MSNBC's No. 1 anchor suddenly gone, it would appear the race is on to see which news channel can claim to be a distant second to Fox.

Speaking of which, an important bit of perspective: Wednesday's "O'Reilly Factor" drew 3.24 million total viewers, with 910,000 in the 25-54 demo — nearly as many