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Ventura makes brief appearance on national cable network
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Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura is now working for MSNBC. (MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik)
Jesse Ventura made a brief prime time appearance on MSNBC Thursday evening as the cable network readies Minnesota's former governor for his own TV talk show.

St. Paul, Minn. — Jesse Ventura's first MSNBC appearance was a soft, five-minute feature, "Jesse's Hero of the Week," about a California mother who saved someone's life on a playground.

While there was nothing on the edgy or controversial in Ventura's first segment, the former governor signaled that won't always be the case as he does his new job.

"I can warn you that in the future I won't always be so kind and gentle," Ventura said.

MSNBC announced in early February it had hired Ventura for a new one-hour prime time issues-oriented talk show. The cable network promised a topical program that would feature no-holds-barred discussion and debate. Ventura has declined requests to talk about his new job.

MSNBC has not said when the show will debut.

The network says Ventura will appear at least weekly in the 8 p.m. hour until he eventually takes over the slot.

I can warn you that in the future I won't always be so kind and gentle.
- Former Gov. Jesse Ventura

"We are right now deep into the development process of the show," says MSNBC spokesman Jeremy Gaines. "What we are going to do is roll it out over the course of the summer. We're going to do that every week pretty much over the course of the next couple of months, until we see the full product in the not-too-distant future."

The slow rollout of the Ventura show comes in stark contrast to MSNBC's launch of a talk show with Phil Donahue last summer in the same time slot. Donahue's revival got a lot of attention early on, but the program quickly fizzled and was cancelled six months after its debut.

Gaines says the cable network learned from its Donahue mistakes, and is trying an entirely different approach with Ventura.

"We picked a date certain on July 15 and launched Donahue, and it frankly didn't work out so well. So we want to make sure we get the show right, and we're going to take the time we need to get it right," Gaines says.

To prepare Ventura for his show, MSNBC has been staging mockups, experimenting with different formats, giving Ventura opportunities to brush up on his trademark confrontational style of debate.

No matter how good the show is, he might be in trouble just based on the fact MSNBC still has quite a ways to go to catch up with the big boys.
- Star Tribune television critic Neal Justin

Linda Runbeck, president of the Taxpayer's League of Minnesota, joined Ventura, a political science professor, and the leader of Minnesota's Independence Party for a recent roundtable-style discussion.

She says it was a combative, fast-moving conversation about tax cuts, the Air Force Academy sex scandal, Republican strategist Bill Bennett's gambling and the policy of separating boys and girls in classrooms.

"I think the producers are actually looking for things that are sharp and somewhat uncivil, politically incorrect -- and of course Jesse is very good at that," Runbeck says. "I think they're going to basically have no boundaries, so they have a variety of subjects they're going to be able to take on, and Jesse will love it."

Star Tribune television critic Neal Justin says even from the brief first segment, it's clear Ventura is comfortable in front of television cameras, which he says is a big part of the battle for success. Justin says he thinks Ventura's show could work if the outspoken host allows real debate, and avoids shutting out those who disagree with him.

Still, Justin says the real challenge facing MSNBC is just getting people to watch the cable network.

"If it's just him alone and there aren't other shows that take off as well, he's going to be left hanging. No matter how good the show is, he might be in trouble just based on the fact MSNBC still has quite a ways to go to catch up with the big boys," Justin says.

The MSNBC Web site suggests a possible theme for future shows. It asks viewers to forward information to Ventura's show if they know of homeland security breaches or if they've been wronged by government or business.

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