MSNBC talent and staffers are bracing for a major 2020 shakeup amid discussion of moving ratings-challenged Chuck Todd to a morning slot and execs talking with Fox News escapee Shepard Smith.
The goal of any reshuffle would be to shed ratings dead weight in the lead-up to the election. Sources at the network cautioned that a new look for the lineup is still up in the air, but brass have been batting around several options.
One of those is new blood in the form of Smith, who abruptly quit Fox News late last year after on-air skirmishes with Tucker Carlson and other prime-time hosts. Smith has had conversations with MSNBC President Phil Griffin about a potential gig when his non-compete clause expires, although his price tag is expected to be considerable for any interested network.
“It’s unclear what slot he would take, but we’d want him in prime-time,” an MSNBC insider told The Daily Beast. “We are well aware [Jeff] Zucker [president of CNN] is also pursuing him, as are a number of the networks.”
At 30 Rock, much of the tinkering is focused on the daytime schedule.
With the lackluster performance of Todd’s MTP Daily at 5 p.m.—“a hammock,” as one insider put it, between the robust ratings of Nicolle Wallace’s 4 p.m. show and Ari Melber’s 6 p.m. show—there has been talk of switching Todd to 9 a.m., as Page Six first reported. Under that scenario, the current 9 a.m. anchor, Stephanie Ruhle, could move to 3 p.m., where her financial expertise would mesh well with the market closings.
However, Todd is said to be resisting such a move. Several sources inside NBC cited the perception that his new slot would hurt him with an even bigger dip for any program that airs after the successful Morning Joe franchise. Others said that some of the show’s staffers were less than thrilled by the scheduling demands of an earlier time slot. One source told The Daily Beast that NBC News and MSNBC Chairman Andy Lack recently traveled to D.C. to meet with the Meet the Press staff to discuss the team’s weekend show and various other projects, including the show’s podcast and a possible role on NBC’s forthcoming streaming platform.
Other names, like 2 p.m. host Katy Tur, have also been floated for the 3 p.m. slot, which will be vacated when anchor Ali Velshi moves into a new weekend role. MSNBC recruited Joshua Johnson from NPR late last year for an anchor role; he’s expected to eventually join the weekday lineup as well.
On the weekends, changes are expected in the schedule prior to Joy-Ann Reid’s 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday show, which draws a healthy viewership and is seen as the anchor of the network’s weekend programming. Alex Witt is expected to continue at noon to 2 p.m. and David Gura (Joy Reid’s former lead-in) has taken over from 2 to 4.
Velshi, who currently hosts several hours of weekday programming, is moving to his weekend show in a matter of weeks, so it’s expected that some of these changes will be accomplished sooner rather than later.
Looming over all the internal speculation is what will happen with Lack and NBC News President Noah Oppenheim after Steve Burke—a supporter of both—leaves as chairman of NBCUniversal in August.
Jeff Shell, who will succeed Burke, has been on a listening tour at NBCUniversal, taking temperatures at both NBC News and MSNBC. As the former chairman of the federal Broadcasting Board of Governors—now called the U.S. Agency for Global Media overseeing the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe—Shell is still said to be irked at Lack for leaving the job of chief executive of the BBG in 2015 amid the Brian Williams scandal, only a month after Shell recruited him for that position. And The Wall Street Journal reported last year that Oppenheim was expected to succeed Lack when his contract is up at the end of the year.
Lack, who turns 73 in May, has had a rocky tenure at the helm of NBC News. He dropped a total of more than $70 million on hiring Megyn Kelly, a big bet that became a high-profile failure, along with Greta Van Susteren and Hugh Hewitt for MSNBC—two anchors who didn’t jibe with MSNBC’s left-leaning profile and who also failed with viewers and ultimately departed.
However, the Today show, Nightly News, and Chuck Todd’s Meet the Press have all been leading their rivals in the all-important ages 25-54 demographic under Lack’s tenure; and Lack essentially saved the career of disgraced former Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, who, after a scandal involving his exaggerations and fabrications of his journalistic adventures, is thriving as anchor of MSNBC’s weeknight 11 p.m show.
Multiple sources told The Daily Beast that Shell has been “very aware” of the antipathy toward Lack among some of the rank-and-file inside MSNBC and NBC News.
Oppenheim, meanwhile, can also take a measure of credit for the success of Today, Nightly, and Meet the Press, but he is still weighed down by the baggage of his decision to pass on Ronan Farrow’s Harvey Weinstein reporting and, along with Lack, the handling of the Matt Lauer scandal and their refusal to hire an outside law firm to investigate that episode.
Two insiders said Shell’s arrival is expected to benefit MSNBC President Phil Griffin—a longtime NBC veteran who has run the cable outlet since 2007—but could not be specific as to how. Shell, a Democrat, is said to be a stronger proponent than Lack of a left-leaning bent at MSNBC.
Network insiders also predicted that there could be more changes on the horizon following the 2020 election.
Other insiders wondered whether Chris Matthews and Lawrence O’Donnell, at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. respectively, would survive in prime-time long past the November election, as the cable outlet’s managers seek to capitalize on Nicolle Wallace’s appeal by potentially moving her to a prime-time slot. Another person with knowledge of the situation cautioned against speculation on the futures of Matthews and O’Donnell, telling The Daily Beast that “it all depends on what happens with the election. You could see either or moving on to other endeavors or staying for another round.”