MSNBC Shake-Up Means Big Role for Thomas Roberts

MSNBC Shake-Up Means Big Role for Thomas Roberts

MSNBC is making big changes to its early morning and afternoon lineup, and subsequently making a huge investment in gay anchor Thomas Roberts

Effective March 2, MSNBC is canceling Ronan Farrow Daily and The Reid Report — two daytime programs that have suffered what Politico called “catcaclysmic ratings declines and waning relevance.” 

In their place, Roberts will anchor a new, daily two-hour block of news programming from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Eastern. To make him available for that large chunk of on-air time, MSNBC will replace him as the anchor of its Way Too Early program at 5:30 a.m., the lead-in to Morning Joe with Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. An MNSBC spokesperson said the moves are part of the network’s plan to make daytime programming more “news focused,” and some observers see the changes in that light as well.

“With Roberts, MSNBC is making a commitment to covering more breaking news during the day,” the Los Angeles Times noted. “Unlike Farrow or [Joy] Reid, Roberts is an experienced news anchor who handles developing stories without a script.”

Roberts, 42, was a correspondent for CBS News before joining MSNBC in 2010. He has also contributed to several entertainment shows, including Entertainment Tonight and The Insider. Prior to that, Roberts was a news anchor for CNN Headline News. Last month, he also cohosted NBC’s broadcast of the Miss Universe pageant from Miami with Natalie Morales. He hosted the pageant in 2013 as well, receiving some criticism because of its location that year: Russia. But he said his presence as an openly gay man helped shine a spotlight on the nation’s antigay climate and laws.

Roberts, who has described MSNBC as the leader in television coverage of LGBT issues, has been out since 2006. He and Patrick Abner wed in New York in September 2012, and their nuptials made The New York Times. “Even news anchors with matinee-idol looks can get a case of the jitters,” the Times reported of the event.

To say Roberts is active in social media would be an understatement. Followers on FacebookInstagram and Twitter are treated to frequent updates on the couple’s private life and loving posts about their dog, Riley, who Thomas noted last week is coming up on his 13th birthday. 

While fans may enjoy the unusual access to Roberts away from 30 Rock, his propensity to share has earned him criticism that he overshares, in the form of one column by Mediaite’s Eddie Scarry. 

“Perhaps more than any other national news figure, save Geraldo Rivera, Roberts seems always ready to Instagram or tweet a photo of himself flexing, posing endlessly with his husband Patrick Abner, or resting half-naked in bed,” Scarry wrote last fall.

“Is it wrong? No. Is it weird? A little. Is it tacky?” Scarry commented. “For a 42-year-old man to caption photos of himself lifting weights, ‘Get pumped’ and then share it with the world — is there any doubt?”

A spokesperson for MSNBC told The Advocate in a statement that Roberts will continue as anchor of his streamed show focusing on LGBT issues, Out There, appearing weekly on MSNBC’s Shift online service. The spokesperson said Scarborough and Brzezinski will fill in for Roberts on Way Too Early until a more permanent replacement is found.

Farrow is expected to continue at MSNBC as host of prime-time specials and as a special correspondent for the network. Reid is also staying on and will become MSNBC’s national correspondent. 

The Advocate reported on Farrow’s ratings troubles last fall. But according to Mediaite and other reports, his show hit a new low in the 25-54 demographic with just 11,000 viewers last month. During the same hour, Fox News Channel led with 202,000, while CNN had 154,000. 

The death knell for Farrow's program may have been that ratings bottom-dweller Al Jazeera America doubled MSNBC’s numbers with 22,000 viewers. The Reid Report has also lagged far behind CNN and Fox News Channel. 

Ratings across MSNBC have been down for months. The full-day rating for one day last month was just 55,000 viewers, the lowest numbers for the network in nearly a decade. Daytime ratings for January were down 20 percent, and prime-time total viewership declined 23 percent, with a staggering plummet in the most desirable demographics of 39 percent.

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