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MSNBC Axes Phil Donahue’s Talk Show

February 25, 2003 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ MSNBC fired Phil Donahue on Tuesday, abruptly ending the veteran talk show host’s return to television after six months of poor ratings.

Donahue’s final show will be Friday night. The news show that precedes him on the air, ``Countdown: Iraq,″ will be temporarily expanded to two hours to replace him.

``We’re proud of the program and we’re disappointed that the show was not able to attract the viewership we had hoped for and expected,″ said Erik Sorenson, MSNBC president. ``We thank Phil and his staff for their dedication, commitment and passion.″

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The move was not a surprise. MSNBC hoped ``Donahue″ would provide a liberal counterweight to Fox News Channel’s competing ``The O’Reilly Factor,″ but the ratings started poorly and didn’t improve.

MSNBC tried to tweak the show in November, putting Donahue in front of a live audience in New York instead of in a New Jersey studio, but it made little difference.

During this month, a ``sweeps″ month in which ratings are watched closely to set advertising rates, ``Donahue″ averaged 446,000 viewers. O’Reilly drew 2.7 million viewers, up 28 percent from February 2002, according to Nielsen Media Research.

A CNN talk show with Connie Chung as host that debuted shortly before ``Donahue″ averaged 985,000 viewers this month, Nielsen said.

Donahue was a nine-time Daytime Emmy Award winner for his syndicated talk show, which aired nationally from 1970 to 1996, paving the way for dozens of such shows to follow.

He began his MSNBC show on July 15 with a panel discussion on whether the United States should try to oust Saddam Hussein. On Monday night, with Rosie O’Donnell as guest, they talked about the same topic.