There was one big change at MSNBC that we learned about weeks ago: that former “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams would emerge from his six-month suspension for serial embellishment and take on a role at MSNBC anchoring breaking news. That’ll happen sometime after mid-August, assuming news breaks.
Now there’s much, much more. According to Mediaite’s Joe Concha, MSNBC is bagging three daytime programs in an effort to move the network toward straight-news coverage. Part of the plan is to slot “Meet the Press” anchor Chuck Todd in the daily lineup, just as he’d been previously, as host of a 9 a.m. program titled “The Daily Rundown.”
The changes come at the direction of NBC News boss Andy Lack, who returned to the network earlier this year in the midst of the crisis over Williams’s tall tales about his past reportorial exploits. In addition to inheriting the Williams problem on the NBC side, he inherited a ratings wreck on the MSNBC side.
Based on Mediaite, these are the shows that are on their way out:
• “The Ed Show”: No more Ed Schultz at the 5 p.m. hour, which counts as an instant upgrade before you even consider the replacement. Schultz is the longtime radio host and rabid lefty who used his hour to consistently cheerlead for the Obama agenda, often to embarrassing and credibility-killing lengths. Though Schultz brought sincerity and consistency to his broadcast, his hectoring became predictable and formulaic.
• “Now with Alex Wagner”: Here’s a pity. Before the last MSNBC lineup change, Wagner hosted a rountable noontime show that was far and away the best feature on the MSNBC daytime dial. She then switched to 4 p.m. and lost something. A presentation that once had energy and memorable moments turned into a ho-hum cable-news enterprise — a lot of staid panel talk and analysis — just the commodity that MSNBC is seeking to overthrow in its reinvention.
• “The Cycle”: If the network is moving away from talk news, then “The Cycle” is an obvious casualty. It’s a roundtable format that looked like a clear ripoff of Fox News’s “The Five,” an arrangement with a bunch of conservatives and single liberal antagonist. With three left-leaning co-hosts — Ari Melber, Krystal Ball and Touré — fighting against one tepid conservative — Abby Huntsman — “The Cycle” bills itself as a “TIS” show – “topical, interesting, and smart,” in MSNBC’s characterization. We won’t take issue with that characterization, though Huntsman struggled to provide a capable counterweight to her three opponents, as longtime (and former) liberal stalwart Bob Beckel did on “The Five.”
What works at Fox News won’t necessarily work at MSNBC, which is, in part, the takeaway from today’s news. Change to MSNBC’s format or mission is becoming a constant, and the recent turmoil results to a significant degree to the structural audience problem that plagues the outfit. Study after study after study has shown that left-leaning viewers splinter in their news consumption patterns, leaving MSNBC with an unappreciative crowd for its lefty fare. “[T]here is no dominant trusted news source among Democrats or liberals,” concluded one report.
When asked about the reported changes, an MSNBC source said there’s no confirmation on the details of the Mediaite report, except that “Meet the Press” anchor Chuck Todd will be breaking back into the daily lineup — time slot to be determined.
Will some tinkering with the daytime lineup solve MSNBC’s problems? Impossible. No one in media critic circles will fault a news network for moving toward more news, but there is the small issue of CNN. Have a look at the chart below, laying out the newsgathering investment of the three major cable news networks, as measured by the research outfit SNL Kagan and reported in the Pew Research Center’s “State of the News Media 2014.”
As of 2013, the chart indicates, CNN was outspending MSNBC by $500 million on news expenditures. Switching around the orientation of some programs won’t make a dent in that disparity. Some press releases, some new faces and a brand-new mission won’t enable MSNBC to puncture CNN’s go-to-ness when it comes to breaking news. In fairness to the plan, however, Lack envisions an ever-closer partnership between NBC News and MSNBC as the latter shifts away from lefty fare and toward news reporting. That alone will beef up MSNBC’s straight-news plan.
Todd can’t hurt, though. His former MSNBC show could be a bit dry, but it was focused on news and analysis. When something big was happening in the political world, Todd’s goal was to get the newsmaker on set for a polite but generally tough interview. Think back to June 2014, when Republican Dave Brat upset then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a Virginia congressional primary. Todd invited the victor onto “The Daily Rundown” and proceeded to delve into policy questions, as you might expect from any decent major-network anchor. Brat replied, in part, “Hey Chuck, I thought we were just going to chat about the celebratory aspect,” responded Brat, who wasn’t ready for that kind of talk.
The Internet ate it all up, something that doesn’t happen often enough across MSNBC’s programs.
Via Brian Stelter, Lack is talking over the new direction with staffers in a town hall meeting. One good question for Lack: Just what will Brian Williams be doing in this new world? He’s supposed to be covering breaking news, but how is that defined? Will he big-foot other anchors when momentous things occur? For example: Something big happens in relation to Iran around noon, when longtime foreign affairs ace Andrea Mitchell is doing her MSNBC show. Is Williams going to shove Mitchell aside? The new MSNBC will be months, if not years, in the making.