Donahue making television comeback

— Veteran talk-show host Phil Donahue is returning to television with a nightly topical program on MSNBC, which hopes his hiring adds a spark of interest to a struggling network.

Terms of the deal, signed early Wednesday, were not immediately disclosed. Donahue's show is expected to launch sometime this summer.

Donahue, 66, was a nine-time Daytime Emmy Award winner for his syndicated talk show, which aired nationally from 1970 until low ratings forced its cancellation in 1996.

His MSNBC show will air at 7 p.m. weekdays, pitting him against Fox News Channel's powerhouse, "The O'Reilly Factor," and a new show on CNN led by Connie Chung, which is supposed to debut in late spring or early summer.

Donahue will interview newsmakers, reporters and analysts on the topics of the day. Unlike his syndicated talk show, he will not have a studio audience.

He's a political liberal who supported Ralph Nader in the 2000 presidential election, and his leanings represent a clear counter-programming strategy to Fox's Bill O'Reilly, whose show is particularly popular among conservatives.

MSNBC has been suffering in the ratings, its average prime-time audience during the first three months of 2002 a little more than a quarter of Fox News Channel's and a third of CNN's.

To make room for Donahue, MSNBC is moving its nightly news with Brian Williams up to 6 p.m. "Hardball" with Chris Matthews will air at 8 p.m. and be shown exclusively on MSNBC and no longer on CNBC.

Two other shows will be pushed back an hour: Ashleigh Banfield's news report will be at 9 p.m., and Alan Keyes' talk show, which has done poorly since its debut this winter, will be at 10 p.m.

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