MSNBC’s Katie Phang On Her New Cable and Streaming Shows, and the Challenges of Hosting Across Multiple Platforms

By A.J. Katz 

NBCU News Group executives are funneling more resources into streaming, as evidenced by last month’s announcement that the company is making many of MSNBC’s most popular analysis shows available to subscribers of Peacock—all streaming on-demand the next day.

This sharper focus on streaming news includes the launch of new MSNBC analysis shows led by hosts spanning media platforms. The former spokesperson for vice president Kamala Harris Symone Sanders is debuting cable and streaming shows on MSNBC and Peacock, respectively, next week, and current White House press secretary Jen Psaki is leaving the administration soon and will get her own shows on MSNBC cable and streaming as well.

Another personality whose deal with the company now includes both a weekend MSNBC analysis program and a show on Peacock is MSNBC legal analyst Katie Phang. Beginning tomorrow, Saturday, April 9, Phang will debut The Katie Phang Show, airing on MSNBC weekends in the 7 a.m. hour. Phang will also debut a show on Peacock next week under the same name, and it will air Thursdays and Fridays in the 2 p.m. hour. Both programs will broadcast from the Telemundo Center in Miami.

We spoke with Phang—a Miami-based trial attorney and founder of a minority and women-owned law firm—about delivering content on cable versus streaming, what makes an effective on-air legal host or analyst, and who has given her the best advice as she embarks on this new adventure. Phang also disclosed that she was on the same high school debate team as a certain new Supreme Court Justice…

TVNewser: What will be the biggest differences and similarities between your cable show and your streaming show?

Phang: Here’s the reality: I have more time on Peacock. I think one of the things you’ll see that’s a little bit different about MSNBC’s new hub on Peacock is the fact that I’ll have a little bit more of a longer form interview format. I can have a little bit longer of a segment or a block with a guest on Peacock. That being said, Peacock is video on demand. It’s different platform, it’s a different format.

I also have the excitement of a live program. MSNBC, for me, on the weekends, I will be the first live program that you will have on Saturdays and Sundays. That’s a big responsibility for me. I think there’s a certain kind of desire by the MSNBC viewers for something that’s going to be familiar. Familiarity will be comforting.

But what they’re going to get from me is a balance, I think, of, “let me get you caught up on the biggest news that you might have missed that might have been a part of that Friday night news dump. Maybe something you didn’t hear or maybe while you were out living your life on a Saturday, running errands, taking your kids to baseball, whatever is going on, let me get you caught up on Sunday morning on the biggest issues, the biggest kind of news kind of stories.” But then there’s also the balance of the programming on the weekend for MSNBC, which is going to be the truly perspective-driven, more nuanced angles that I’m interested in, that I’m not so arrogant as to think that it’s exclusively just what I’m interested in, I’m definitely going to have it with an eye towards, “let’s go on this journey together, and let’s learn things together.”

My goal is to have recognized experts, but also some relatively unknown voices that have been used that often that you don’t see on the regular rotation that will be uber competent in their areas and their spaces, respectively. It’s a chance for me to bring them and introduce them to the MSNBC audience and say, “Look, here’s the voice maybe that you haven’t heard from before or that often, but they definitely have something to share with you.” The plan is to take that spirit, and having a little bit more space on Peacock, I get much more time to present a bit more content. There’ll be kind of a similar energy, a similar drive to have it be a reflection of who I am, but also just a little bit different because it’s not live. It’s a chance to live in perpetuity when you’re video on demand, you could just always go back, click on it and watch it at your leisure, and kind of get caught up that way.

How do you prepare a show differently for streaming than for linear?

The preparation is not going to be any different. I have been accused of, I think in a good way, of always being overly prepared. I think what people will see from me on both platforms is me listening intently to what the guest says; to listen to what’s being said, to follow up on something that may not be anticipated because you don’t know what somebody’s going to say. That lack of predictability is something that I can use my training as a trial lawyer to do.

The cool thing that people are going see on both platforms with The Katie Phang Show is, No. 1, I have an incredible studio here out of Telemundo in Miami. NBC has made a very conscious decision to expand. So it’s not just New York, and DC. Now we’re in Miami. We’re not siloed here. We are broadcasting live and also recording out of Telemundo studios, and the facilities here are exceptional.

What you’re going to see is that I did not want to be tethered to the anchor desk. I also wanted the show to visually look different. You’re going to see a little bit more of an active kind of role that I’m going to be taking on the studio set, and hopefully maybe even outside of the studio. If there’s an opportunity for me to take the show out and do even like “a man on the street” kind of energy, I’m going to change it up a little bit. I think people would enjoy that. I think, again, they want the familiarity of something that they know, but I also think it’s important to hear from the voices of the people who are making those tough decisions on a daily basis that are not us. Those “kitchen table” issues—we’ll literally go sit at someone’s kitchen table and have that conversation with them. That’s kind of what I’m hoping to accomplish, and the network has been incredibly supportive about wanting to have it be that perspective.

How will you divide your time between the two shows?

I think I’m not going to be playing favorites, because the common denominator is it’s The Katie Phang Show. I will be devoting as much time, resources and energy as I can to both programs. It’s a different beast because MSNBC is live and the MSNBC hub on Peacock is going to be VOD. But, I think the issues are going to be constantly evolving, and I think that’s why my devotion of time and energy is going to have to be the same for both. I also think that, to the extent I get some lead time during the week, because my Peacock program will be on Thursdays and Fridays, and the MSNBC show will be Saturday and Sunday, I do get that overlap of prep earlier in the week to be able to maybe foresee some segments, guests and issues that are going to be equally as applicable on both platforms, but maybe need a little bit more breathing room for the longer-form interviews. So maybe that’ll go to Peacock.

I think that there’s going to be this constant decision-making process all the time to decide if there’s breath and space to be able to have it on one versus the other. I am not going to be playing favorites in terms of which one [show] is going to take more time and energy. I mean, it’s a challenge with a 7 a.m. show. It’s an early start to my day! But I am no stranger to the early morning hits. As a legal contributor, I have done the 6 a.m. hits. I know what it’s like, and that’s also why I also feel like it’s important to give the space for a guest, an expert to be able to answer the questions. That’s my goal, too—to really give them that opportunity to answer the questions that I think are the most pressing and that need to be answered, and that are a little bit more nuanced than maybe just the “scratch the surface” questions you may have heard answered on other programs.

Since you’re going to be straddling both worlds, do you have any general thoughts on the future of news, both on linear and on streaming?

I think there’s an audience for both. I would acknowledge that there is some credence to the idea that the next battleground is going to be the streaming platform. I do think MSNBC taking all of that incredible MSNBC content and making it available on the MSNBC hub on Peacock was a great move, because I think it blends together that recognized brand of MSNBC and saying there’s another place where you can find that content, and by the way, we have original programming of Peacock as well. We also have some of the more familiar shows that you were used to seeing before.

I think it’s a great bridge between the MSNBC audience that maybe is used to turning on their TV at 5 a.m with the early Way Too Early with Jonathan Lemire. The idea that some people are sort of “old school,” in that they like their TV, or they like their cable, but not everybody can get the cable content that they want. So now, it’s great. We have a VOD for you, you can go to Peacock and get that content there. And like I said, you can say, “Well, hey, you know what, I have time now or I want to watch The Katie Phang Show, so I’m going to do that.” I think it’s a really nice way of bridging a gap that you would have had between cable audiences and streaming platform audiences.

What makes an effective on-air legal analyst or host, in your opinion?

You have to have credibility, first and foremost. I think how you have that credibility is when you show any viewer, through any walk of life, through any part of the country, wherever they are, that you’ve taken the time to be thoughtful about how you’ve prepared to present this information, present your opinion, even. So, even if it transcends just a news bit, your credibility is the most important thing, because if I wasn’t credible as a legal analyst, then why would you even think that I’d be credible as an anchor or a host? Whereas then I’d have even more information than I’m going to be presenting to you through my lens, or through the slant of Katie Phang, but still, I’m giving that information to you.

I think the No. 1 was critical thing is you have to have credibility, and the only way to do is you got to prove yourself. Part of proving yourself is making sure that you’ve been thoughtful about where you’ve gotten your information, how you’ve sourced it, and then also, how is it being presented? If you just wanted to read it, just go on the internet, or read a periodical. But if you want it in a different medium, and one that’s visual, then part of that challenge is also going to be I’m going to take that credibility, and I’m going to give it to you in ways where you can see it, and you can hear it and you can experience it differently than maybe if you were just to read it.

This will be your first time hosting a TV news program. Who has given you the best advice as you embark on this new adventure?

Everyone I have spoken to—from a line producer, to an executive producer, to on-air talent, to the people that are making a lot of the higher level decisions at MSNBC—has given me good advice, and the advice they’ve all shared, the common denominator is: “Be yourself.” They’ve said, “Katie there’s something about you that we think works. There’s something about you that that really shines through, and that’s what we want, we just always want you to be yourself.” I got that. That I can do. Everything else, I’m learning along the way. There’s so much that goes on that I don’t know from the technical end of the news world. But I’m learning, and it’s a very, it’s a humbling experience. I’m willing to put in the time and I’m willing to work hard for it, and I think that this is really also a reward for working hard. I think that I’ve logged a lot of time and energy and wanting to do good work on TV, and I feel like that there is where it’s ended up and I couldn’t be happier. It’s a cool place to find myself.

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