UPDATE: 2/28/16: Two days after the New York Times made public the story of Melissa Harris-Perry’s strong criticism of, and obvious dissatisfaction with MSNBC’s pre-empting (over the last month or so) of her popular weekend show (for presidential campaign coverage), the host and network have apparently decided to part ways. In a tweet Harris-Perry published on Twitter early this morning, she implied as such:
— Melissa Harris-Perry (@MHarrisPerry) February 28, 2016
And this morning, MSNBC indeed confirms that their relationship with Harris-Perry has come to an end.
As Sergio has covered on this blog over the last year, MSNBC has seemingly been in the middle of a midlife crisis, with plenty of shuffling at the network throughout 2015: the cancellations of shows hosted by Ronan Farrow, Joy-Ann Reid, Ed Schultz, Alex Wagner, Touré (and others), as well as the time-slot shifts of programs hosted by Al Sharpton, and now this news of Melissa Harris-Perry’s exit.
It’s a network that is maybe trying to find itself amid ratings that trail other basic cable TV news networks, like Fox News, et al, and a rapidly changing news environment, thanks in large part to social media. You’ll recall that MSNBC competitor CNN underwent its own massive overhaul after new president Jeff Zucker took over the reins in 2013, making many significant changes in that channel’s programming.
As for what’s next for Harris-Perry, your guess is as good as mine. There’s always a chance that she’ll be picked up by another network, although I’m not sure where else she’d fit in. But she’s built a solid fan-base, and is quite popular, so I would assume that she’d be wanted somewhere. Some have suggested a black TV network like BET (which doesn’t have an actual regularly scheduled news program, unlike TV One’s "NewsOne Now" hosted by Roland Martin), but I’d be very surprised if that happened. If anything, I think she might be a better fit for Oprah Winfrey’s network (OWN), as it also seems to be revamping its programming lineup, adding new scripted drama series, documentary specials, and the like. I could see an MHP news series on OWN – either a political talk-show, or even a documentary news series similar to what Soledad O’Brien has done for CNN; or maybe a combination of both. OWN doesn’t have a news program in its lineup, so this might be the opening Oprah needs to snatch up a talent like MHP, and make a part of the OWN family. Maybe even an MHP talk-show that combines the socio-political, with entertainment (somewhat like a retooling of the "Oprah Winfrey Show" of yesteryear, but with MHP’s name and brand all over it).
There’s also the possibility of taking her show/voice online, where she’d have the freedom to do as she pleases.
She certainly has a few options, and I’m sure she’ll land on her feet, wherever that might be. Let’s see what happens next.
Below is Friday’s post for the backstory that led up to today’s news.
I’m not a regular viewer of the Melissa Harris-Perry show on MSNBC which airs in the mornings, on the weekends (in part because I "cut the cord" a while ago, and most of my TV watching is done on-demand, via services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon), so I had no idea that there has been trouble brewing over at the network, regarding the future of her show. I also wasn’t aware that she hasn’t appeared on her MSNBC show at all “for weeks,” she tells the New York Times today, because she was effectively "sidelined" for presidential election coverage (most recently in South Carolina and New Hampshire).
She also will not be hosting her show this weekend, even though she’s scheduled to do so.
“Here is the reality: Our show was taken, without comment or discussion or notice, in the midst of an election season,” Harris-Perry said in an email she sent to her co-workers this week, which was obtained by the New York Times. “After four years of building an audience, developing a brand and developing trust with our viewers, we were effectively and utterly silenced.”
And thus, she isn’t entirely certain of her popular show’s future, adding that she feels "betrayed" by MSNBC executives: “I will not be used as a tool for their purposes… I am not a token, mammy, or little brown bobble head. I am not owned by Lack, Griffin or MSNBC. I love our show. I want it back.”
Lack refers to NBC News chairman, Andrew Lack; and Griffin is Phil Griffin, MSNBC president.
She then seems to wonder if racism may be a factor in the apparently continuous pre-empting of her show: “I don’t know if there is a personal racial component… I don’t think anyone is doing something mean to me because I’m a black person.”
In their defense, an NBC News spokesman said in a statement: “In this exciting and unpredictable presidential primary season, many of our daytime programs have been temporarily upended by breaking political coverage, including M.H.P. This reaction is really surprising, confusing and disappointing.”
Thus, clearly frustrated also because of what she describes as a lack of editorial control over her own show, Harris-Perry will not be hosting her show this weekend, she has said; although she was expected to. She is still under contract with NBC however, although she states that she was told that the pre-empting of her show would likely continue for the “foreseeable future.”
So, in summary, she seems to feel that there might be more to all of this than she’s been led to believe, and that the fate of her show may be uncertain as of today. And in response, NBC News insists that she’s essentially reading more into their actions beyond the obvious, as laid out in the quote above from an NBC News spokesperson.
I should note that, over the last year or so, MSNBC has done some housecleaning and shuffling of its lineup, so maybe her concern for what all this pre-empting, and apparently a lack of communication, might mean for her show, is warranted.
Read the full New York Times report here.