With changes at MSNBC and ABC, will TV news take new opportunities for diversity?
It's hiring someone you wouldn't expect for a job that needs a fresh, different perspective.
And with recent moves at MSNBC and ABC News, the TV industry has a fresh chance to build anchor lineups which look more like America. But so far, executives don't seem particularly inclined to blaze any new trails.
The biggest disappointment comes at MSNBC, where White House correspondents Savannah Guthrie and Chuck Todd have been given a 9 a.m. show, pushing CNBC import Dylan Ratigan to 4 p.m.
All these moves smell like talent building. Todd, a former editor-in-chief of The Hotline, came to NBC News two years ago as political director. The network has been developing him as a talent ever since, offering high profile reporting assignments and now a regular MSNBC show.
There's similar development going on for medical correspondent Dr. Nancy Snyderman, longtime correspondent Andrea Mitchell, Morning Joe co-anchor Willie Geist and Ratigan, who have all snagged signature shows on the liberal-leaning cable channel.
But the one thing missing from this lineup is ethnic diversity. Carlos Watson, the political strategist who emerged as an engaging TV talent during the 2004 election, anchored an 11 a,.m. show for just a few months, until it was canceled in September. The new moves for Todd, Guthrie and Ratigan also displace the only other anchor of color with a regular weekday show -- Tamryn Hall, who co-hosted 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. with David Shuster.
It's hard to believe, with the massive anchor bench NBC News has developed with its cable channel and network shows, that there are still so few people of color in the pipeline - especially at a cable newschannel known for pundits championing liberal causes. But since early 2008, MSNBC has developed shows for Mitchell, Ratigan, Snyderman, Geist, Rachael Maddow and Ed Schultz. Now you can add Guthrie and Todd to that list, but where's the effort toward diversity?
Turn to ABC News, and you see a shifting of anchor seats thanks to Charles Gibson's retirement which make perfect sense. Diane Sawyer is the biggest star at ABC still doing news and George Stephanopoulos is the Number two guy, so it makes sense Sawyer would move to World News and Stephanopoulos would land at Good Morning America.
But ABC has an opportunity now to diversify its anchor lineup (beyond its morning show, where newly hired news reader Juju Chang and longtime co-anchor Robin Roberts help). Because the anchor chair at its Sunday politics show This Week is now open.
Just as when NBC's Meet the Press opened up after the death of anchor Tim Russert, pundits like me (and Daily Show host Jon Stewart) are suggesting PBS host Gwen Ifill would be a perfect addition. She knows Washington, has done everything from moderate vice presidential debates to lead her own politically-focused show on PBS and now stands as co-anchor of PBS' NewsHour.
There's some non-diversity-related reasons for the move as well. Jake Tapper, the White House correspondent considered a frontrunner for the job, has anchored only as a fill-in; Nightline co-host Terry Moran, another contender, would be pulled from the late night news show just as the program has been scoring ratings wins against entertainment shows on CBS and NBC.
And ABC has been criticized for not importing enough well-known talent from elsewhere to fill its anchor ranks. Hiring Ifill and making Tapper her backup could solve a lot of problems at once.
All it takes, really, is the will to take a chance and try something new.