The case for why CNBC was the best viable option for Shepard Smith

Today’s news that Shepard Smith is joining CNBC appears on its face to be a head scratching move of the highest order. Short of joining the constantly self-remaking-itself/can’t-stick-to-a-plan-for-long HLN, there wouldn’t seem to be a worse possible career move Smith could make for an anchor of his stature.

The network doesn’t bother with news on weekends or at night. Smith’s 7pm show will the latest CNBC has flirted with a newscast since The News with Brian Williams occupied the 9pm slot (moved eventually to 8pm) nearly two decades ago. And that was back when CNBC had an actual live evening lineup with The News, Rivera Live, and Hardball.

And then there’s the rumors that newly minted NBC Newsgroup Chairman Cesar Conde wants to put in a conservative leaning prime time slate of shows which raises the obvious question about how Smith’s liberally leaning newscast is going to work as a lead-in to a block of conservative programming.

It would seem Smith to CNBC really doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Now, having said all that, here are the arguments for why CNBC was Smith’s best option. Things become rather self-evident when we look at the networks Smith had to choose from:

OAN/NewsMaxTV – Yeah, right. Smith left FNC for a reason. He’s not going to go networks that are even more to the right and more unbalanced and, from a structural standpoint, precarious than any other news networks on cable.

PBS – Would be an interesting play for PBS to get Smith, though would probably mean dumping Judy Woodruff and that would be a tough pill to swallow (not to mention a very bad look). But PBS, as venerable as NewsHour may be with the historical pedigree it has, is probably not high enough of a profile for Smith. And the salary would be lower than he could command just about anywhere else.

ABC – Hitched to David Muir and doing well. GMA all set. 20/20 all set. No room for someone like Smith at the Disney network.

NBC – Long term it might have worked but near term it would have upset too many apple carts. Plus the network is probably still smarting from its last big outside hire and though Smith doesn’t carry Megyn Kelly’s baggage (or, to be fair, carries more palatable baggage) the upside isn’t as high as one might have thought.

CBS – Overloaded with talent on 60 Minutes (and there’s no indication Smith would want such a role). Hitched itself to Norah O’Donnell for the forseeable future. Ditto Gayle King in the mornings. Also, fairly or unfairly, viewed as the perpetually weak sister of the Big Three broadcast news networks that just can’t get its act together to make a serious run. Not an optimal place for Smith now or in the near future.

MSNBC – What would appear to be one of the two most obvious destinations for Smith. Left leaning network fact checking Trump at every turn…even during dayside. But appearances can be deceiving. The reality is Smith coming to MSNBC blows up a lot of groundwork that had been laid. As much as I deplore the idea that Brian Williams still has a job at NBC News after the damage he did, he is essentially already occupying the position Smith will now have at CNBC. To bring Smith in would mean Williams would have to be demoted. With Andy Lack not around anymore to have Williams’ back that scenario wouldn’t be the complete impossibility it would have been were Lack still running things. But it’s still too unlikely to be considered seriously.

Plus Smith coming onboard is also a threat to Nicolle Wallace. MSNBC had paired Williams and Wallace together for a long time. Wallace is a ratings plus for MSNBC and its anti-Trump viewership, despite how totally unsuitable I find her for any major non-political news coverage and there’s the very real question of how well she does for the network once Trump is gone.

Smith getting 7pm at MSNBC was never going to work. Phil Griffin hates news junkies because they’re so fickle. But a steady stream of progressive leaning (or obsessed) shows guarantees a steady stream of progressive eyeballs. A news show, even one like Smith’s which (for now) is going to be decidedly Trump critical in its fact checking approach, is too much of a gamble for Griffin when he can pad his echo chamber with Joy Reid.

CNN – The second of the “most obvious” destinations for Smith. As much as CNN has strayed, under Jeff Zucker, from what it used to be and mean for news, it still has the brand and cachet to be “worthy” of Smith’s talents.

The problem is CNN is overloaded with people that are supposedly “worthy”. Too many to have one be the center of attention. This is why CNN has no designated network face. You might have made that argument about Wolf Blitzer or Anderson Cooper 10-15 years ago but CNN is much more “anchor by interchangeable cogs” now than it has ever been.

Zucker has repeatedly demonstrated no qualms regarding bigfooting and undermining his dayside anchor rotation with any one of Tapper/Blitzer/Cooper when he feels the occasion warrants it so a dayside position for someone of Smith’s stature would be problematic.

There’s no place for Smith on CNN’s primetime. Much as I hate how Don Lemon and Chris Cuomo’s antics have helped to bring down the reputation of the network, Zucker is all in both of them.

You could make an argument that there is a potential spot for Smith on New Day but that would require Smith to have to work in an environment where he shares the stage…in essence a demotion from what he had been doing at FNC.

So there really wasn’t a viable way in to CNN for Smith. At least not without having to blow something up to make room for him. In actuality a move to CNN could cause an even more toxic disruption to the “natural order” than Smith going to NBC.

So when you take a step back and look at what was potentially out there for Smith, under the above circumstances, CNBC suddenly starts looking good. He gets the role he had at FNC and can still do what he did at FNC. Yes, there are serious questions regarding the long term viability of this move but that depends on how serious CNBC is about redoing its primetime and what it goes with. But, in the nearterm at least, Shepard Smith to CNBC probably makes the most sense for Shepard Smith.

3 Responses to “The case for why CNBC was the best viable option for Shepard Smith”

  1. […] There is a case to be made for Shep going to […]

  2. Mel Van Tine Says:

    Who cares. He’s a liberal hack with no cred ibility

  3. joeremi1 Says:

    He was never going to get a primetime news hour on MSNBC, but this gives him one next door from which he can parachute in for reports. It’s also a good launchpad – like Brian Williams before him – to Nightly News. Lester won’t be there forever.

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