MSNBC Mulls Daytime Shuffle, But Not a Primetime Perch For Shepard Smith

Shepard Smith
Alex Kroke/Associated Press

MSNBC executives may be working their way through a number of programming and schedule changes in months to come, but launching Shepard Smith in primetime probably isn’t one of them.

Despite a report in The Daily Beast suggesting that MSNBC honchos might want to consider the former Fox News anchor for one of its primetime perches, the prospect seems unlikely. One person familiar with Smith’s thinking suggests he’s never craved a role other than straight reporting, and another person with knowledge of the matter says such a move wouldn’t work for either the journalist or the network. Smith left Fox News in October after sparring on air with Tucker Carlson, one of the network’s primetime hosts.

A representative for Smith declined to comment.  His non-compete agreement with Fox News is believed to expire six months from now, meaning he could be eligible to work for another news outlet as the nation nears the 2020 election.

To be sure, Smith would be a big get for any number of news outlets. CNN President Jeff Zucker has made no secret of his interest in talking to Smith about a potential alliance. CNN declined to comment.

And even MSNBC, which has tended to favor news programming over partisan views in most areas except weekday primetime and the weekend’s ‘A.M. Joy,” could no doubt benefit from his presence. But the person familiar with Smith’s outlook suggests he likely covets more of a newsroom role, such as a late-afternoon or early-evening slot, or even work contributing to CBS’ “60 Minutes.”

Meanwhile, MSNBC is trying to allay some concerns about a potential shuffling of daytime programs. Though the situation remains fluid, there has been some consideration put behind expanding Nicolle Wallace’s 4 p.m. program, “Deadline: White House,” to two hours a day. That could potentially require shifting Chuck Todd’s “Meet The Press Daily” to 9 a.m. from 5 p.m., and putting Stephanie Ruhle, recently signed as chief business correspondent for NBC News, at 1 p.m., according to people familiar with the matter. Executives are mulling the placement of Joshua Johnson, newly hired from NPR, at 3 p.m.

None of these decisions has been finalized, these people say, and it’s quite possible the manevuers could take some time to come to fruition. Indeed, two people caution the shifts may never even take place, though many acknowledge the speculation has upset staffers, who might have to upend their personal schedules to accommodate any programming changes. MSNBC declined to make executives available for comment.

If put into motion, the moves could add to the spotlight placed on Wallace, whose program is an internal favorite, and of a piece with “The 11th Hour,” the Brian Williams-hosted late-night slot that emphasizes access to journalists in the midst of covering breaking stories about politics and national news. “We just try to bring together unique combinations of people,” Wallace told Variety in 2018, “and let them talk the way in this time of Trump people are actually talking to each other.”

And executives might see a different use for Todd’s “MTP Daily” during an election year, one of these people said.  Putting the program on in the morning would help it serve as something of a “table setter” for the day ahead. Todd already seems to have his hands full. NBCUniversal said Thursday that “Meet The Press” would also put forth “an original offering” on the new Peacock streaming service each weekday. That outlet is slated to debut in April on select cable systems before launching nationally in July.

During a recent interview with Variety, Ruhle said that she was still assigned to anchor MSNBC’s 9 a.m. hour, but noted that “anything could change.”

[Updated, 1:05 p.m. PT]