Chris Hayes in Primetime: Shorter Segments, Slower Speech, Still No Ties

By Gail Shister 

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes would like to see more hosts of color on the cable networks – including his own.

“It’s a problem,” says Hayes, a lifelong Caucasian. “People’s opinions, interpretations of news, journalistic instincts, editorial concerns are the product of the people they are, the experiences they have, the way they move through the world.

“It’s why organizations, companies, the Senate, the U.S. Supreme Court benefit from diversity. … Diversity produces people with a specificity in their world view, and it benefits the product.”

Hayes’ product, ‘All In with Chris Hayes,’ debuts Monday in the 8 p.m. slot formerly occupied by Ed Schultz. Rachel Maddow (Hayes’ mentor) follows at 9, with Lawrence O’Donnell at 10.

It is a Murderers’ Row of liberal brainiacs. It is also, like the prime-time lineups at CNN and Fox News, blindingly white – a state of affairs to which Hayes says he has given “obsessive thought.”

Diversity is his top priority, he says. ‘All In’ will feature a wide variety of guests, especially conservatives. Hayes followed the same practice on his MSNBC weekend show, ‘Up with Chris Hayes,’ which debuted in 2011.

“I can’t control my gender, race or sexual orientation,” says Hayes. (He and his wife, law professor Kate A. Shaw, have an 18-month-old daughter.) “I can control who we have on and what voices we introduce to viewers.”

Those voices will be streamlined on ‘All In,’ Hayes says. Discussions will run up to 17 minutes, less than half as long as the marathons on his two-hour ‘Up.’

“I want to create a show that a lot of people watch, and produce really good TV,” says Hayes, who never met a complex sentence he didn’t like. “I want it to be high-quality journalism – compelling, dynamic and addictive.”

Hayes’ admiration of Maddow borders on hero worship. She gave Hayes his first shot as a guest anchor.

“I owe her my career in TV,” he says. “She showed that a certain kind of TV could work – rigorous, deep, passionate, smart and unapologetic about its perspective.”

At 34, Hayes is the youngest prime-time host on cable news. True to his generation, he talks at the speed of sound. After complaints from viewers, however, he’s been working on obeying the national speed limit.

He is “saturated in the internet,” and describes his interests as “eclectic and discursive, very much informed by the randomness of clicking through the net.” His passion is basketball, which he plays a few times a week in the NYU gym.

He doesn’t wear neckties on the air, the result of a practical reality rather than an aesthetic choice. “I’m terrible at tying ties, so I try to create situations where I’m not forced to do it,” he admits. “I make do. I muddle through.”

As for bow ties, he steers clear. To Hayes, they have a “very specific association,” in the persons of conservative commentator Tucker Carlson and former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.

In addition, they’re harder to tie than neckties, says Hayes, ever the pragmatist.