Magazine article Variety

Joy to the World

Magazine article Variety

Joy to the World

Article excerpt

When Joy Reid takes over MSNBC's broadcast for two hours each Saturday and Sunday, she knows she has to walk a tightrope. Her show, "AM Joy," is supposed to have a broader perspective than the rat-a-tat-tat breaking-news coverage that normally fills MSNBC's dayside grid. But in this current news cycle, headlines are always breaking.

The trick, sometimes, is to nod to the news but use it to build up a bigger idea. "We want to keep adding to the story we are focusing in on," Reid says. "It's part of the job, to be flexible and nimble with the news cycle, because it's so crazy."

One of her recent broadcasts shows the technique. "We woke up to a storm of tweets and retweets, you know, because old habits die hard," she told her viewers on a Sunday, after a week in which the president had been feuding with ESPN. Reid could have opted to stick with the easy stuff: offering the same recaps as everyone else. Instead, she used the outburst as a starting point, shepherding panels of guests not through the usual cable-hour shouting matches but into reasoned explorations of single-payer healthcare and the controversy about ESPN host Jemele Hill calling Donald Trump "a white supremacist."

Nine months into Trump's presidency, the nation's political conversation isn't the only thing intensifying. The 24-hour feedback of cable news has become the nation's first - sometimes flawed - draft of history. MSNBC's take on the situation, which calls for a progressive primetime lens on the swirl of controversy around the White House, has lent the NBCUniversal network new momentum. Its ratings have soared, adding a wrinkle to its ongoing battle with Fox News Channel and CNN to win viewers.

Along with "Morning Joe" and Rachel Maddow, among others, Reid has been part of the network's winning formula. Her overall viewership for "A.M. Joy" rose 59% in the third quarter, while viewership in the 25-54 demo rose 55% in the same time period. She's creating appointment viewing for MSNBC weekends, which in the past were simply devoted to straitlaced breaking-news coverage. She is also becoming one of the network's most reliable pinch hitters. In recent weeks, MSNBC viewers have seen her filling in for the cabler's most-watched personalities: Chris Matthews, Chris Hayes, Maddow and Lawrence O'Donnell. Each substitute stint, says Reid, requires a different focus. "You're kind of going into a different area of the theme park each time you sit in on a different show," she notes.

A testament to her increasing buzz factor: She recently scored MSNBC's second sit-down interview with Hillary Clinton about the former presidential candidate's book "What Happened" (Maddow had the first).

Reid has "an ability to break down some complex things to make it something that is digestible for viewers," says Yvette Miley, the senior vice president of MSNBC and NBC News who oversees weekend programming. "But she does not serve it in a pandering way." Reid believes her job is "putting the puzzle pieces together," she says. "In general, what we hope to do is take what happened in politics and give it more context, more information."

There's no shortage of issues to delve into each weekend. Russian interference with last year's U.S. presidential election - and the investigation into it - can't be probed enough, says Reid. "I think the Republicans should want to know about it as much as the Democrats. …

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