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MSNBC to Undergo More Changes, NBC News Chief Andrew Lack Says

NBCUniversal isn’t finished tinkering with MSNBC.

While the cable-news network’s daytime schedule has largely been reworked since February, there are likely more changes to come, said Andrew Lack, the veteran TV-news executive who rejoined the company in April to supervise both NBC News and MSNBC.

“It’s just the beginning. We are early days. These were important steps, the first few steps, but there is a lot more we are thinking about. It’s a long game, as I have said, and we are just at the beginning of it,” he said in an interview about MSNBC last week. “We have got a lot of parts and pieces we have got to fit into this puzzle.”

His remarks indicate the final form for MSNBC, devoted over the past few years to presenting the news through a progressive lens, has yet to be achieved. MSNBC’s ratings have dropped significantly over the past two years as it veered away from coverage of breaking news. The network’s viewership losses have outpaced those of the collective cable-news juggernaut: While the total median viewership for Fox News Channel, CNN and MSNBC over a 24-hour period fell 7% in 2014, according to Pew Research Center analysis of Nielsen data, MSNBC’s tumbled 14%.

Change at the network in recent weeks has been swift and definite. Already, regular hosts like Ed Schultz and Reverend Al Sharpton have been moved off the weekday daytime grid. Executives have set up two-hour chunks of time anchored by Thomas Roberts and Kate Snow devoted to the news of the day, followed by Chuck Todd hosting a daily version of NBC perennial “Meet The Press,” which Lack believes will become a signature segment for MSNBC. “That’s going to be a nice franchise for us,” he said.

Now executives are considering an expansion of “Morning Joe,” MSNBC’s early-day programming block featuring Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. “It’s on at 6 to 9 a.m. in the eastern time zone. It isn’t really seen as much in Los Angeles as we’d like to to be – in Los Angeles, where it’s 3 a.m., or San Francisco or Seattle,” Lack explained. “I’m just looking at ways to extend some of the good work that Joe and Mika are doing and turn it around, expand it.” A decision on how to proceed has not been finalized, Lack said. “In my view, it is the most influential program in cable news in the morning, and I think it’s missing an opportunity in the west.”

While recent moves have focused more on programs that directly play off the headlines, Lack said the network could run other types of shows during the day. NBC News, he said, has a natural facility for covering breaking events. “That’s what we do and MSNBC was missing some of that, and now it isn’t,” he noted, But that is not the only theme that could show up in MSNBC programming: “We’ve got a lot of programming ideas” that are in the testing phase, he said, declining to elaborate further.

Lack is pleased with Brian Williams’ debut on MSNBC. The former “NBC Nightly News” anchor is assigned to cover live, breaking-news events on MSNBC and “that’s the skill that he most loves to employ,” said Lack. Williams has anchored MSNBC’s coverage of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States, the recent Oregon shootings and a few other moments. Williams was off the air for about seven months after disclosing he embellished details about an NBC News reporting trip he made to Iraq, and NBCUniversal investigated that incident as well as other details about the newsman and the way he described in public other reporting trips. “The viewer feedback, the feedback among his colleagues has been very positive,” Lack said.

The executive also praised Phil Griffin, president of MSNBC and Deborah Turness, president of NBC News, suggesting their positions were secure under his aegis. Griffin, he said, has guided MSNBC through several incarnations and Turness’ experience as a producer was helping to boost the performance of NBC News programs like “Meet the Press,” which has gained momentum under Chuck Todd, and “Today,” which has made strides in the ratings most important to advertisers against ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

“At our core, we are all producers and we love journalism and we love television, and we love the digital opportunities that are sitting with us now,” he said. He declined to brag about “Today” or to suggest the morning show would overtake its ABC rival. “It’s always competitive,” he noted. “It will continue to move along on what I think is a very good trajectory.”

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