John Reiss on Hardball Move: “It All Made Sense”

By Gail Shister 

Gail Shister
TVNewser Columnist

A funny thing happened to John Reiss in his first meeting with Chris Matthews.

Conversationus interruptus.

During a 2 1/2 hour lunch, “I said hello, I said goodbye,” says Reiss, new executive producer of Matthews’ Hardball on MSNBC. “It’s fair to say he did the majority of the talking.”

Reiss, formerly EP of Brian Williams‘ NBC Nightly News, was not unaware of Matthews’ style.

“As a viewer, sometimes I would say, ‘Let her talk!'” he says. “His mind works so fast, before he finishes a question he’s six moves ahead and already knows the response.”

Really? How about this response — LISTENING.

Eight days into Reiss’ tenure, it hasn’t been a problem, he says. “I’m prepared to tell him after a show, ‘You’re interrupting too much.’ It hasn’t happened yet. He’s been a very good listener this week.”

Reiss was all ears when MSNBC came calling. “I said yes, yes, a thousand times, yes. It all made sense.”

For one thing, he’s a freak for politics. For another, he needed a job.

After two years at the helm, Reiss left Nightly in March, six months before his contract was to expire. He insists it was a mutual decision, and that he had begun talking to news division chief Steve Capus several months earlier about an exit strategy.

“I felt it was the right time to go, the right time to do something different,” Reiss says. “Nobody forced me out. I didn’t say ‘play me or trade me,’ either.”

Reiss strongly denies industry buzz that Williams wanted him out.

“Brian and I never had a bad moment,” he says. “We may have disagreed on a story, but we never argued in front of the kids. We went behind closed doors, and were able to compromise in a gentlemanly fashion.”

Reiss acknowledges that some might see it as a comedown to go from a broadcast nightly newscast to a cable yak-a-thon. Naturally, he does not.

With politics-driven Hardball, “I love the subject matter. I feel like I’m concentrating on my major now. I don’t have to worry about floods or big snowstorms.

“We have one subject, and we cover it as thoroughly as any show on television. With two wide-open races, how much more fun can it get?”