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Forum staff reports, Published March 14 2013

Schultz says prime-time exit was his idea

NEW YORK – Don’t call it a demotion.

Despite reports that he was pushed out of his prime-time slot on MSNBC after four years of a nightly show on the liberal cable news network, Ed Schultz insists his move to a Saturday and Sunday show on MSNBC was his decision.

“This was my move,” he said Thursday.

In an interview with The Forum hours before his final show in the weekday 7 p.m. slot, the former Fargo talk show host said he volunteered to shift to the weekend to lighten his load, which includes his three-hour nationally syndicated talk show on radio.

“I’m 59. I’m not getting any younger, you know?” Schultz said, a day after disclosing the departure on his TV show Wednesday night. “I was just getting tired of the grind in many respects. It’s something I had to get away from.”

A daily routine of TV and radio has meant 13- and 14-hour days, Schultz said, a whirlwind of work that had prompted MSNBC President Phil Griffin to check with Schultz regularly to see how he was holding up.

Knowing that Griffin was looking to beef up its original programming on the weekend and get away from its documentary repeats – “the doc’ block,” as Schultz called it – he approached Griffin about a month ago with the idea, he said.

Though his wife, Wendy, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last July, Schultz said that had nothing to do with his departure. He said she went through 18 weeks of chemotherapy and had a surgery last year and now has a “clean bill of health.”

“2012 was a stressful year for us,” he said.

Quoting unnamed sources at MSNBC, Politico’s media columnist reported Schultz was pushed out. He’s being replaced in favor of 34-year-old Christopher Hayes, a liberal journalist with a Brown University degree in philosophy who had been hosting a morning show for MSNBC on weekends.

Schultz responded to the Politico story much like he handled a New York Times report in November suggesting he’d be replaced by Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein – with a forceful and personal denial.

“I was not pushed out. All of those reporters who are saying that? None of them have called me,” he said.

Griffin confirmed that the move was voluntary in an interview Thursday, saying it was raised by Schultz in an “open discussion” about his future at MSNBC.

“The fact is, Ed came to me,” the network’s president said.

Griffin said he’d like to be “on-brand” for most of the day during the weekends, and Schultz’s new time slot helps achieve that. He also pledged that MSNBC still backs Schultz strongly.

“His voice absolutely has to be part of this network,” Griffin said.

Schultz, of Detroit Lakes, Minn., was an All-America quarterback for Minnesota State University Moorhead in the 1970s. His start in TV was in sports, but he migrated to Fargo talk radio in the mid-1990s – a few years before his political views became more liberal. His national radio show began in 2004, projecting the blue-collar liberal brand that paved his way to MSNBC.

Schultz said his weekend show, which will run from 4 to 6 p.m. and start in mid-April, will involve more in-the-field reporting on issues facing the working class.

“You actually get limited behind the desk in network television,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum news editor Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5542