Last night, Ed Schultz broke one of MSNBC’s biggest scoops ever—revealing the identity of the man who surreptitiously taped Mitt Romney insisting that “47 percent” of the American people were deadbeats. Then, moments after his fascinating interview with 38-year-old bartender Scott Prouty, Ed announced that the last Ed Show will air tonight, and that he’s moving to a new weekend slot on MSNBC in April.
This morning, as many of us were still trying to digest that bit of tumult, the network announced that Chris Hayes, longtime Nation writer and host of the smartest, most stimulating political show on TV, Up w/ Chris Hayes, will replace Schultz in the choice 8 PM weeknight spot.
Although Schultz has been a vociferous champion of labor—indeed, Prouty said he chose Ed’s show to reveal his identity because Schultz has been “speaking up for workers all across America. That’s the reason I’m here today”—Hayes is, if anything, even more progressive. But he’s not quite the picket organizer Ed clearly likes to be. Hayes is a younger, cooler and decidedly more nerdy-in-a-good-way on-air personality. He likes to question issues from every conceivable side and to think outside the two-party box. He not only brings on guests you don’t usually see on TV, but his heady discussions often fire up brain cells you don’t usually use, especially when sitting in front of the tube. The only question is, will Hayes have that sort of latitude in a show half as long.
The New York Times’s Brian Stelter, who in November speculated that MSNBC might replace Ed with the WaPo’s Ezra Klein, posed the shift from Schultz to Hayes as “bluster” vs. wonk. While Schultz’s ratings were quite healthy, Stelter writes:
The change is predicated on the belief that MSNBC can win a wider audience with Mr. Hayes than it did with Mr. Schultz, a champion of the working class whose bluster didn’t always pair well with Ms. Maddow and the channel’s other prime-time program, “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell.” Mr. Hayes, on the other hand, is just as wonky as Ms. Maddow and Mr. O’Donnell, and is a regular contributor to both of their programs.
I’ve always liked that MSNBC’s nighttime hosts “didn’t always pair well.” I like that the lineup mixes it up in terms of smooth and rough: There’s the heartfelt activist Al Sharpton, the obsessive politico Chris Matthews, the sharp analytical Maddow, and the Hollywoodish O’Donnell with the insider cheat sheets.
Then there is the more populist Ed, a sports-loving, gun-owning, non-coastal guy, a self-described former right-wing shock jock who learned how the system crushes the little guy and will have none of it. Sure, he can be hot-headed, but usually only on his popular radio show, where he’ll occasionally yell at right-wing callers. And sure, his show would ask incredibly leading poll questions (like, “Do you trust Republicans to play by the rules with election money?”).
But I thought it was bold of MSNBC to give a show to a lefty who could go head to head, and gut to gut, with right-wing talkers and who is like a rock for workers and unions. And his ratings, second only to Maddow’s on the network in February, seemed to bear out this approach.
Ed says he can put those qualities to better use in a 5 to 7 PM show on Saturdays and Sundays. Others may see it as a demotion, but:
I raised my hand for this assignment for a number of personal and professional reasons. My fight on The Ed Show has been for the workers and the middle class in this country. This new time slot will give me the opportunity to produce and focus on stories that I care about and that I know are terribly important to American families and American workers.
I’m very proud of the work our team has done here at 8 PM, but I gotta tell you, sitting behind this desk five nights a week just doesn’t cut it for me. I want to get out with the people…and tell their stories.
Ed’s defense of the union movement has been all too rare in mainstream American politics, where even using the word “labor” can seem, at best, old-fashioned and, at worst, vaguely commie. Indeed, the media’s avoidance of labor issues parallels how the word “jobs” has disappeared from economic discussions, buried alive by abstract distractions like “deficits,” “fiscal cliffs” and “sequesters.”
Prouty, a registered Independent, chose to come out on The Ed Show, though he was invited on by much higher-rated programs, like The Today Show, because he liked Ed’s advocacy.
The Prouty episode is the perfect summation for Ed’s primetime journey at MSNBC, the exclamation point for his show. We’ll see the next chapter in April.
Unlike the fire-breathers of MSNBC, mainstream talk shows are too corporate and timid to provoke real debate, Leslie Savan writes.