Back in 2013, MSNBC weeknight host Ed Schultz announced that he would be moving his wares to a the doldrums of a weekend slot on the NBC-affiliated cable network. “I raised my hand for this assignment for a number of personal and professional reasons,” said Schultz, in a statement that absolutely no one believed. He later moved back to a more desirable weekday afternoon time.
In an internal e-mail sent yesterday by President Phil Griffin, MSNBC announced that Al Sharpton, host of the 6 p.m. daily program “PoliticsNation,” would be moving to Sundays at 8 a.m., a grievous demotion that’s almost spin-proof. But Sharpton did his best, telling the Daily News: “First, I can reach a wider audience of people who don’t get home by 6 at night. Second, I can now get the A-list guests and newsmakers I want. And third, a Sunday morning host is what I always wanted to be. I never wanted to be a weeknight pundit. I wanted to be a Sunday morning newsmaker. I wanted to be Dr. Martin Luther King, not Larry King.”
The guy can talk.
This move was inevitable, given the changes of recent weeks. Under relatively new NBC News Chairman Andy Lack, MSNBC has been ditching its all-day-long progressive tilt in favor of greater news coverage and a more thoroughgoing partnership with the straight-up newsies at NBC News. Accordingly, it has essentially scrapped its late afternoon look, bagging “The Cycle” — along with the show’s co-hosts Abby Huntsman, Touré Neblett and Krystal Ball — as well as Alex Wagner’s 4 p.m. show (she’ll stay on with the network). “The Ed Show,” which aired at 5 p.m., is gone, as is its loud-mouthed and highly opinionated host, Schultz.
Newsman extraordinaire Chuck Todd will be filling the 5 p.m. slot, a show that promises more of what he offered in his former MSNBC show — “The Daily Rundown” — that is, tight and often news-making interviews with politicians and their surrogates.
There is no bridge that could possibly carry MSNBC viewers from Chuck Todd straight to Al Sharpton. “This is a natural time for him to make a move given that daytime is shifting to more of a news focus and less opinion,” an NBC News source tells the Erik Wemple Blog. “He gets to be part of the policymaker conversation on Sunday.” Again, that’s a good way to frame things.
Snark aside, the move makes a great deal of sense, on a number of fronts:
*When breaking news is going on, and folks are starting to tune in at home after work, Sharpton isn’t a go-to kind of guy.
*Whatever its appeal, Sharpton’s show wasn’t killing it on the ratings.
*A stronger partnership with NBC News is tough to pull off while MSNBC has not just an opinionmonger at the 6 p.m. slot but also an activist. For those who haven’t been tuning in, Sharpton isn’t just an MSNBC employee; he’s also a civil rights activist with the National Action Network. When he was negotiating his accession to the network with Griffin in 2011, Sharpton made clear that he wanted to continue his grass-roots work. The response from Griffin? “‘Put it in the contract. We’d never interfere with what you’re doing, your civil rights work,'” said Sharpton, summing up his boss’s reaction at a November 2013 address in the District.
That agreement — that Sharpton can continue pursuing these conflicting roles as newsman and activist — will continue to support Sharpton’s work on Sunday mornings. “He is an activist with a newsmaker’s show. It doesn’t fit into any traditional box, but I think it makes it a lot less complicated now that it’s in the Sunday box rather than during the week,” says the NBC News source.
Sure does. If nothing else, the Sunday move reduces Sharpton’s broadcast time from five hours per week to one hour per week. His activist stature on MSNBC just sustained an 80 percent drop. The clash between Sharpton’s incarnations emerged in striking ways during MSNBC’s coverage of the cases of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner — instances where Sharpton functioned as an advocate for the families and helped to organize protests. “He has an important voice for any audience, but especially for our audience on justice, civil rights and equality issues and we want that voice to be part of menu of things that MSNBC has to offer,” says the NBC News source.
That voice will have less opportunity to showcase its activism, meaning that the sources he formerly interviewed on “PoliticsNation” may opt for other shows on the network. “If you’re an Eric Garner family member . . . you might be more comfortable on [Sharpton’s Sunday show] but you might want to get on the ‘Today’ show,” said the NBC News source.
Sharpton’s Sunday show starts on Oct. 4, and his current gig ends on Sept. 4. MSNBC executives proudly note that the host never missed a single show — which could be a tribute to Sharpton’s nails-man diet (daily intake: a salad and whole wheat toast). Tonight the network is throwing a “little party” to celebrate the host’s tenure; hold the starches!