Yesterday, NBC executives named John Reiss, former executive producer of The NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, as the EP of MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews. His first day at the new job was Tuesday.
On Friday, the Media Mob caught up with Mr. Reiss via phone. Mr. Reiss said that working at Nightly News had been great because he got to do a little bit of everything, but that he was excited to start focusing more on politics. “It was like being in school where you take lots and lots of classes,” said Mr. Reiss. “Now I’m concentrating on my major. Politics was always my favorite subject.”
In recent years, while at Nightly News, Mr. Reiss had reportedly fallen out of favor with anchor Brian Williams. He seemed enthusiastic about the fresh start.
Mr. Reiss said that he first met Mr. Matthews roughly two months ago, when the two had lunch in D.C. According to Mr. Reiss they hit it off and ended up talking for two-and-a-half hours, mostly about politics. “We talked about our visions for the show,” said Mr. Reiss. “We discovered that we had similar ideas and decided it would be a good match.”
The conversation went on for so long, said Mr. Reiss, that he missed his train back to New York. In the coming months, he’ll be making the same haul on a regular basis because Hardball is based in Washington D.C. and Mr. Reiss lives in New York. He said the plan moving forward was to spend Monday through Thursday in D.C and to work in Manhattan on Fridays.
Mr. Reiss said the biggest change would be adjusting from shows such as Nightly News and Dateline NBC (where he worked as a producer from 1994 to 2002), which revolve around taped segments, to a show like Hardball that’s based largely on interviews.
‘When I talked to NBC executives about taking this job, I said, just keep in mind I’m not a booker,” said Mr. Reiss. “I don’t come to Washington with a rolodex with people’s vacation numbers in Nantucket. But the great thing is there are people here who have that.”
What changes does Mr. Reiss hope to make to Hardball?
He avoided getting into specifics. “There’s a lot of great material on the broadcast,” he said. “We’re going to look to franchise and to brand some items so that people will know what’s coming.”
Mr. Reiss will have his work cut out for him. Hardball, which airs twice daily, at 5 PM and again (in repeat) at 7 PM is wrapped around Tucker Carlson’s 6PM show—which has long been tanking in the ratings and is rumored to be short for this world. CNN recently moved Lou Dobbs to 7PM, increasing the competition at that hour, which already includes Fox’s Shepard Smith and Headline News’ Glenn Beck.
Mr. Reiss said he wasn’t obsessing over the ratings battle—at least, not yet.
“Any EP that says they don’t look at ratings is lying to you,” said Mr. Reiss. “But I promise you I’m not going to be driven night to night by what last night’s number is. I’m not one of those EPs that looks back at the night before and says, oh, we did well, let’s do that again. Ratings change at a glacial pace. There are peaks and valleys there. But most of that is noise. Look at where we are six months from now and see how we’re doing.”