The veteran anchor and political operative said on his program Monday night that he was leaving the cable-news outlet, putting an end to a long-running show that was featured on three different networks and part of the news landscape since 1994. Monday’s broadcast is Matthews’ last, and a rotating group of anchors is expected to lead the hour until MSNBC executives come up with more definitive plans.
”Let me start with my headline tonight: I’m retiring,” said Matthews, opening his first and final segment on the program. He added: “After conversations with MSNBC, I’ve decided tonight will be my last ‘Hardball.’ Let me tell you why: The younger generations out there are ready to take the reins.” He suggested younger people were bringing “better standards than we grew up with – fair standards” to the workplace, and acknowledged he had in the past addressed women in an outdated manner. “For making such comments in the past, I’m sorry,” he said.
In less than two minutes, he signed off and handed over the hour to MSNBC anchor Steve Kornacki, who seemed taken aback by the assignment.
Matthews had been under close watch by critics, apologizing last week after making an awkward comparison on air between Senator Bernie Sanders’ victory in the Nevada caucuses and the Nazis’ World War II takeover of France. The remark prompted public outrage from Sanders aides, and fanned complaints about MSNBC’s coverage of his campaign. “I’m sorry for comparing anything from that tragic era in which so many suffered, especially the Jewish people, to an electoral result of which you were the well-deserved winner,” Matthews said in an on-air mea culpa to the politician.
Adding to the recent spotlight: a female journalist last week wrote an account in GQ alleging Matthews made inappropriate remarks to her while she was getting ready to appear on this show. That resurfaced reports that Matthews had been reprimanded in 1999 after a similar incident that resulted in a settlement to an employee, as well as claims that Matthews treated female politicians less respectfully.
Some of the recent attention sped up discussions that had been taking place between the anchor and MSNBC about when he would retire, according to a person familiar with the matter, resulting in a sooner-than-expected departure. Matthews is not expected to host any sort of special program looking back at his years on the air.
“Hardball” occupies valuable real estate. At 7 p.m., it funnels viewers into MSNBC’s primetime lineup, where advertising costs more and the cable-news networks fight with one another for the medium’s biggest audiences. MSNBC has in recent months contemplated a shift of some of its late-afternoon programs, and the absence of “Hardball” on its schedule could help those plans gain traction. One option executives have considered is expanding Nicolle Wallace’s program “Deadline: White House” to two hours from one. Her show currently airs at 4 p.m. , followed by Chuck Todd’s “MTP Daily” and “The Beat with Ari Melber.” MSNBC has also been in recent discussions with former Fox News Channel anchor Shepard Smith, who is believed to want to return to the news business with a show that would rely heavily on no-nonsense reporting.
He built a cable-news franchise in an era when there were fewer of them, and maintained it for more than two decades. “Hardball” relied on Matthews’ long years spent in Washington, where he worked his way up from being a staffer for various Democratic candidates to a speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter and chief of staff to Tip O’Neill, the durable Speaker of the House for a decade. The show relied on its host’s penchant for being pugnacious, though not enough on most nights to distract from discussions of the political cycle. “Let’s play Hardball,” Matthews would say each night to open the proceedings.
“Hardball” got its start on the cable network once known as “America’s Talking” in 1994.” It was based on the host’s first book, “Hardball: How Politics Is Played Told by One Who Knows the Game,” which was released in 1988. “Hardball” would move to CNBC in 1997, and then to MSNBC in 1999, where it has stayed for more than 20 years. For a time, Matthews was parodied regular on “Saturday Night Live,” with cast member Darrell Hammond impersonating him frequently.
Matthews had a definite love for the scrum, mixing it up with journalists and politicians, even as the recent news cycle swirling around President Donald Trump, stoked to new speeds by social media, has forced cable news into faster, more aggressive programming. “People are getting home. They are hearing about it. They want the full story,” the host told Variety in 2017. The feeling, he says, “is a great rush.”