David Zurawik

Al Sharpton looks to be new host on MSNBC

After almost a week of speculation, it looks as if the Rev. Al Sharpton is going to be a new weeknight host on cable channel MSNBC.

Sharpton, who has been filling in recent weeks on MSNBC, will reportedly be taking over the 6 p.m. timeslot that has been in play since Keith Olbermann  left the channel and Ed Schultz's "The Ed Show" was moved from 6 to 10 p.m. Cenk Uygur had been serving as host of the 6 p.m. hour.

The speculation that Sharpton, a civil rights leader and radio talk show  host, would get the job was first reported in TVNewser on July 16. Read that here. Citing anonymous sources, The New York Times is now reporting it as "imminent." Read that here.

The cable networks have come under fire recently from the NAACP and the National Association of Black Journalists for the lack of persons of color in their prime time lineups.

Earlier this month, the NAACP criticized CNN when it announced a new fall lineup with Eliot Spitzer out and Erin Burnett in.

“Currently, there are no African American hosts or anchors on any national news show, cable or broadcast network, from the hours of 5PM-11PM," Benjamin Todd Jealous, president of the NAACP said in a statement. "The NAACP is especially troubled because these prime time slots are among the most influential in daily news. Prime time hosts in cable often have the most latitude to express their opinions, and evening news anchors are traditionally seen as the most credible voices in weekday news broadcast.”

While the TV industry defines the hours of 8 to 11 p.m. weeknights as prime time, the NAACP appears to be expanding the definition. That matters, because Sharpton would be the first African-American prime-time cable host, according to the NAACP's definition.

While those in the industry do not often discuss the matter publicly, race does matter and those  working in the cable TV pay close attention to it.

In an interview with the Sun after his firing by NPR and promotion by Fox News, analyst Juan Williams took on those who say his channel does not have enough diversity.

"Just consider the idea that Fox allows me the opportunity to sit in for Bill O'Reilly on their No. 1 show," he said. "That's the franchise. That's the moneymaker. If that show falls in the toilet, it's bad for the whole lineup. And yet Fox allows a black guy with a Hispanic name to sit in the big chair and host the show."

You can read that interview that I did with Williams  here.

The NAACP statement issued in response to CNN's new schedule said: 

“We have come to expect this from the likes of Fox News, but not other networks. While we understand that news is now a 24-hour cycle, most Americans get their news from the morning and evening prime time broadcasts. We recognize and appreciate that MSNBC often has guest hosts like the Reverend Al Sharpton, and CNN, CBS and NBChave weekend anchors like TJ Holmes, Don Lemon, Russ Mitchell and Lester Holt. Nonetheless, we encourage all networks to acknowledge the talent that exists and to increase the diversity among their prime time anchors and hosts.”

MSNBC recently hired Michael Steele, former Republican lieutenant governor of Maryland, as a political analyst. You can read my interview with Steele on his hiring here.

Meanwhile, here's video of Uygur explaining why he is out at MSNBC: