Why a Progressive MSNBC Dayside Didn’t Last

By Chris Ariens 

The new MSNBC dayside takes shape this month, and it won’t look anything like the MSNBC of the last few years.

Once known as the Place for Politics, and later the network that Leaned Forward, MSNBC will still begin and end its dayside with programs focused on politics: Morning Joe begins the day and Chuck Todd–a year after he stopped anchoring the Daily Rundown–ends it, hosting a new DC-based politics show at 5 p.m. ET.

In between, back-to-back-to-back news programs will air. Shows like The Rundown with Jose Diaz-Balart and NewsNation with Tamron Hall will give way to MSNBC Live anchored by NBC News and MSNBC anchors, including Hall. The one branded program that will remain is Andrea Mitchell Reports at Noon ET. According to Mediaite, NBC News correspondent Kate Snow will join the roster of dayside anchors, while Morning Joe will be extended an extra hour, until 10 a.m. ET. Though insiders tell TVNewser nothing is set in stone.

All the changes are an about-face for the network, which all but got out of the breaking news business. MSNBC has either canceled or moved six opinion-driven shows since February. And it will have a devoted breaking news anchor as Brian Williams makes his return to the NBC News ranks. As the AP reported last month, Williams’s return is timed to Pope Francis’s U.S. visit. The Pope arrives at Andrews Air Force base, Tuesday, Sept. 22.

In its 19 years, MSNBC has vacillated wildly. The progressive formula worked for a while, until it didn’t. A rival network executive recently told me a progressive audience can’t be counted on to consistently tune in. After a big 2012, thanks to the presidential election cycle, MSNBC finished down -21 percent for all of 2013 and finished down another -18 percent in 2014. And that’s one of the reasons the programming shake-up is happening now, just as viewers return to their fall routines, and the presidential primaries kick into high gear.

A new logo has emerged and the Lean Forward slogan is no more. MSNBC president Phil Griffin is very engaged in all the changes, we’re told; though the moves have the hard news imprimatur of NBC News chairman Andy Lack, who, after all, helped create MSNBC and is now trying to re-create the network, again.