ON THE CHOPPING BLOCK
Tanking MSNBC Gets a Serious Shakeup
The ratings-challenged cable outlet, trailing even HLN, is losing Ed Schultz’s show, The Cycle, and Now With Alex Wagner—and getting a whole lot more straight news.
The Daily Beast has confirmed reports that the Lack-ordered shakeup, the first of several contemplated for the troubled cable news outlet, will include the end of Ed Schultz’s left-leaning, labor-union-heavy 5 p.m. Ed Show, to be replaced by Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd, a non-ideological journalist who formerly hosted MSNBC’s Daily Rundown.
As Todd takes on his additional weekday duties, he will continue as NBC News political director and MTP host.
The news of Schultz’s expected departure—after six years at MSNBC, both in prime time and then on weekend afternoons—was an indication that Lack, a former NBC News president whom NBC Universal chief Stephen Burke recruited to return to the company he left in 2001, is taking a firm hand in day-to-day operations.
But the decision was greeted with disappointment and some anger by Schultz’s diehard fans.
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, a frequent and loquacious Schultz guest, blasted MSNBC’s corporate parent, Comcast, in response to widespread reports of the show’s demise, which went officially unconfirmed as of Thursday night.
“We live in a time when much of the corporate media regards politics as a baseball game or a soap opera,” the Vermont senator said in a statement, quoted by Politico. “Ed Schultz has treated the American people with respect by focusing on the most important issues impacting their lives.”
Sanders continued: “He has talked about income and wealth inequality, high unemployment, low wages, our disastrous trade policies and racism in America. I am very disappointed that Comcast chose to remove Ed Schultz from its lineup. We need more people who talk about the real issues facing our country, not fewer.”
In another expected reshuffling of MSNBC’s daytime lineup, the period from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. will be devoted to straight news, meaning that opinion-driven shows such as The Cycle at 3 p.m. and Now With Alex Wagner at 4 p.m. are also likely to be dropped.
Contrary to some predictions that the cable channel’s daytime news programs would not carry individual titles associated with on-camera hosts, instead presenting a seamless eight-hour news block not driven by personalities, an informed source said the retained shows will continue as before, including Andrea Mitchell Reports at noon, anchored by the respected NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent.
Wagner’s future role at the cable outlet, meanwhile, is up in the air; she could be named a correspondent, much as Ronan Farrow and Joy Reid were designated when their underperforming afternoon programs were canceled in February, or she could also be a candidate for a network perch, such as co-hosting the weekend Today show.
Wagner, the daughter of veteran Democratic political operative Carl Wagner, certainly has the kind of access to power that might be considered valuable in a television news personality. President and Michelle Obama and their daughters, Malia and Sasha, attended Wagner’s wedding last August—along with several MSNBC colleagues, notably MSNBC president Phil Griffin—to former White House chef Sam Kass.
Also under consideration are changes in the cable outlet’s prime-time lineup, with All In with Chris Hayes—which has failed to meet ratings goals at 8 p.m.—a possible casualty after 27 months on the air.
The fate of Al Sharpton’s 6 p.m. Politics Nation program was also unclear—and perhaps even undecided—as Lack and Griffin spoke to both network and cable news staffers at a staff-wide meeting on Thursday morning in the Saturday Night Live studio at 30 Rock.
The only programs that appeared safe from disruption were Morning Joe, the 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. chatfest hosted by Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski; Hardball at 7 p.m. with Chris Matthews; and The Rachel Maddow Show at 9 p.m. Those programs have performed respectably even as MSNBC generally tanked in the ratings, falling behind not only Fox News but also CNN and HLN.
At Thursday’s staff meeting, held at the same moment that the rumored changes were being leaked in media stories, Lack and Griffin refused to make any official announcements. Instead they spoke of how the cable outlet and the network news division—separate entities until Lack’s arrival in April—will be more closely linked as the programming changes unfolded.
Lack and Griffin had kind words for defenestrated Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, who lost his job over serial exaggerations of his experiences covering news events. Williams, who was replaced as permanent Nightly anchor by Lester Holt, is expected to assume live anchoring duties at MSNBC when his six-month suspension runs out in mid-August and his rehabilitation continues.
At one point, Lack insisted that contrary to some outside commentary, Williams’s return to MSNBC—where he anchored a weeknight news program from 1996 to 2004—is by no means an indication that the cable channel is a dumping ground for personalities unfit for the broadcast network. Initially at least, Williams will not be anchoring his own program.
Griffin, for his part, deflected an employee’s question about Keith Olbermann’s rumored return to the cable channel—after he departed in acrimony four and half years ago and lost two subsequent on-air jobs—by saying he hasn’t spoken to Olbermann in a good long while.