BROOKE GLADSTONE: MSNBC pulled the plug this week on Phil Donahue's short-lived talk show, an abrupt end to his much ballyhooed comeback. Donahue struck back at his bosses Wednesday, saying they were too quick to pull the trigger and that they might be trying to quote "outfox Fox" with ever more conservative voices. Now that might sound like just another angry rebuke from a disgruntled ex-employee, except for the existence of an NBC report that could, if genuine, go some way to substantiating Donahue's claim. Rick Ellis, who runs a web site called allyourtv.com says an NBC insider gave him that internal report, and he called some network higher-ups to verify it. RICK ELLIS: What I was able to do is find some of the other people that got it and got them to at least off the record say yes, I, I did receive it--; it was a very difficult thing to do though because obviously it's not the kind of thing that-- they like having out there. BROOKE GLADSTONE: How important do you think these internal memos generally are? I mean who writes them and whose opinions do they represent? RICK ELLIS:Any network does a lot of internal tracking; they do a lot of focus groups; they do a lot of-- these are the demographics; why is this demographic slipping? Why are people tuning out in this particular half hour? I, I -- you see these things endlessly. I mean I would guess that the average network must generate hundreds of them in the course of a year. This is not a-- an out of the ordinary type of study at all; it's just because of Donahue's prestige and just the fact that he was--perhaps the one big liberal voice out there on cable news TV. It, it, it definitely made a -an impact with people. BROOKE GLADSTONE:Well Phil Donahue said he saw the writing on the wall last September -- two months into his MSNBC talk show -- when he told colleague Jerry Nachman that if the numbers didn't click by January he'd be out? The irony of course is that his numbers did click, didn't they! RICK ELLIS: They did -- pretty much from the beginning, and his show has been the highest-rated on MSNBC. The problem is that in the universe of, of ratings, the channel is so far in third place behind Fox and CNN that it's real easy to say well the ratings were down -- he's -you know - he's getting a - an audience that's so much smaller than Bill O'Reilly or so much smaller than Connie Chung-- we had to cancel him. BROOKE GLADSTONE:Okay, so it was widely noted that Phil Donahue's audience was 5 times smaller than Bill O'Reilly's but he did beat Chris Matthews who's heavily promoted all over MSNBC. Ultimately the report suggests the problem wasn't really about numbers! RICK ELLIS: Yes. When you look at the study one of the things that's the most compelling and maybe got the most attention was that-- I, I can quote a, a couple of sentences from it that, "that Donahue presents a, a difficult public face for NBC in a time of war," and that there was a fear that Donahue's show might become a home for the liberal anti-war agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity. You know, from a television standpoint - from a business standpoint - you certainly understand that. But it presents a bit of a dilemma for, for liberals! I think you're getting penalized for being too liberal. BROOKE GLADSTONE:But doesn't it also present a problem for the credibility of a network? I mean at the very time that they're firing Phil Donahue they're hiring a very conservative commentator, Mike Savage, the ex-GOP politician Dick Armey who is famous for his extreme views, and Jesse Ventura who's all over the map politically I guess. It sounds to me that they're doing more than trying to avoid banging up against unpopular views with regard to the potential War in Iraq and the administration that they're going way to the other extreme! RICK ELLIS: The network says very consistently, no. We want a, a variety of voices; we don't think MSNBC is going too far in the direction towards the right, and that's been pretty much their standard answer. These channels are just desperately wanting to expand their demographics, and to get a, a large audience you need people tuning in who will tune in even if they don't particularly like what you're saying - just because they like listening to you. That's the audience that Bill O'Reilly is, is reaching! Not everyone who watches him regularly really agrees with him! But it's just fun to watch. BROOKE GLADSTONE:Donahue was entertaining, though, wasn't he? On - the report even says, and I have a quote here, "He seems to delight in presenting guests who are anti-war, anti-Bush and skeptical of the administration's motives." That surely must have some entertainment value. RICK ELLIS: One of the things that-- was frustrating I think for people associated with the show was that they felt that Phil was often constrained; that because-- the network was very concerned about the image and the type of show he was doing, that every time he would start to get on a roll and he would start to do a show he was very happy with, he was reined in, and they would tell him you need to have more conservative guests. BROOKE GLADSTONE: So basically MSNBC was too afraid to let Phil Donahue be Phil Donahue the way that Fox lets Bill O'Reilly be Bill O'Reilly. RICK ELLIS:Yeah, I think that's very accurate. And-- you know at the end of the day either you believe in your person or you don't. Phil Donahue, people want to listen to the guy, and-- I, I think ultimately that's really what's most tragic about this - is he was one of the few recognizable liberal names out there that, that people would tune in to even if maybe they didn't agree with it. BROOKE GLADSTONE: All right! Rick Ellis, thank you very much! RICK ELLIS: Thank you. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Rick Ellis is the founder and editor of allyourtv.com.