NEW YORK — One of MSNBC’s most valuable utility players, Ari Melber, gets his own regular show Monday with the assignment of shoring up a weak spot in the cable network’s lineup.
Melber, the 37-year-old chief legal correspondent, launches “The Beat” at 6 p.m. ET, promising a show that makes its points more by reporting than pontificating.
He’s a familiar face to regular viewers of MSNBC. In his fifth year at the network, he has guest hosted for every host in the evening lineup — Chris Matthews, Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O’Donnell and Brian Williams — giving him experience with different styles and staffs.
“I learned this is really hard,” he said. “I’ve worked in government, I’ve worked in competitive New York litigation, I’ve worked as a writer and reporter. Honestly, anchoring the news on a nightly basis is the hardest job I’ve ever taken on.”
MSNBC has struggled to find its footing in the time slot since bouncing Al Sharpton in September 2015. It aired a rerun of Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s Bloomberg political show for nearly a year and, most recently, tried Greta Van Susteren after she left Fox News Channel. She lasted barely six months.
It is commonly MSNBC’s least-watched hour in the after-work lineup that begins with “Meet the Press Daily” at 5 p.m., and is squarely at the transition between a newsier daytime lineup and the more opinionated prime-time hosts.
“I’m going to continue the type of reporting that I’ve been doing, which is evidence-based, but I will certainly share my passion about why stories matter,” he said.
The time slot will test his ability to be nimble. While 6 p.m. is a good time to review the day’s big stories, as competitors Bret Baier at Fox News Channel and Wolf Blitzer at CNN do, it’s early enough for news to still break.
Melber has mixed breaking news and more prepared pieces, such as an extensive look-back at Watergate, on his Sunday show, “The Point,” for the past few months. He’s ending that to settle in to the new schedule.
On its face, Melber would seem a better fit for the liberal MSNBC audience than Van Susteren. Melber worked for John Kerry’s presidential campaign and traveled with Barack Obama’s campaign as a writer for The Washington Independent. He worked at a New York City law firm specializing in First Amendment issues. Hired as an analyst by MSNBC in 2011, he joined the network full-time two years later.
It certainly promised more immediacy. Studying up on an issue to prepare a more senior lawyer for trial was less appealing than preparing for his own interview with a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, as he did with Stephen Breyer in 2015.
“TV can keep you honest because the viewers really do listen,” he said. “People who have succeeded in this have shown the audience how hard they work and that their reporting is really worthwhile.”
Through six months, it’s clear that Trump operates differently than any other president — for good or bad, depending on your perspective, said Melber, choosing his words with a lawyer’s precision.
“We are living through one of the biggest political and cultural stories in modern American history,” he said. “We have a president who has clearly ignited a huge debate about what it means to be an American and how America should run. And we are still in the first inning.”
This story has been corrected to show that Melber traveled with Barack Obama’s campaign as a writer for The Washington Independent and did not work for the campaign.