After Chris Matthews' Sudden MSNBC Departure, Questions Abound

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Chris Matthews

Insiders are wondering: Why now? And who will replace him at 7 p.m. on the network?

Some 21 hours after Chris Matthews' sudden resignation from MSNBC, media and political insiders are still digesting the news.

Here are some of the biggest questions they've been asking:

Why now?

Matthews had been on MSNBC for more than 20 years, but over the last few months it began to seem probable — if not likely — that he would leave the network in the near future. "We all knew that this day was coming," a source familiar with the situation told The Hollywood Reporter.

Leaving MSNBC after the presidential election in November would have provided a far smoother transition, but his departure was clearly expedited by a series of recent misstatements and controversies.

The first sign that Matthews could leave the network was visible on Saturday night. While he hosted Hardball from South Carolina on Friday night, he did not appear on the network's Saturday night coverage of the state's crucial Democratic primary.

So, while Matthews' departure was shockingly abrupt, there were clues.

Who will MSNBC replace Matthews with at 7 p.m.?

For now, the network will lean on a rotating group of hosts to fill in for Matthews, though his hour will be taken up with Super Tuesday special coverage on Tuesday night, hosted by Rachel Maddow, Brian Williams and Nicolle Wallace. Wednesday night's 7 p.m. programming could provide some insight into who the network is considering for the spot.

A recent precedent is the 3 p.m. slot on Fox News, which tested with a handful of different hosts before landing on Bill Hemmer as Shepard Smith's replacement.

Steve Kornacki, a national political correspondent for NBC News/MSNBC, had the difficult task of taking over hosting duties for Matthews after his sudden announcement on Monday night. According to Page Six, Kornacki is being considered for the 7 p.m. hour, though as the network's popular data wiz, his skill-set might not be best suited for a traditional hosting role.

Weekend host Joy Reid, who once hosted a daily show, is also reportedly a candidate. Reid has filled in for Matthews, so his audience "knows her," says someone who has worked with Reid at MSNBC. "I'm sure she's being considered."

Another strong candidate is 4 p.m. host Nicolle Wallace. "There's a lot of talk about where to put Nicolle generally, because she has a ton of talent and is on the rise in a less-than-ideal time slot," a network veteran says. 

The wild-card candidate is Smith, who — like Matthews — abruptly resigned in October and seems to be a contender for jobs at both MSNBC and CNN. Smith is said to be eligible to take a new gig sometime this summer, meaning that MSNBC would have a few months to fill before he could take over the slot.

What will Matthews do next?

No one knows, but Matthews told his viewers on Monday night that he is working on another book and "will continue to write." Among his many MSNBC well-wishers, contributor Mike Barnicle guessed that Matthews will be back. "He is an honest, honorable, kind and compassionate human being and we wish him only the best in his career which is far from over," he tweeted.

Matthews — or a member of his team — tweeted a clip of him announcing his resignation, but he hasn't been heard from publicly since signing off a few minutes after the top of the 7 p.m. hour. 

But, on Tuesday afternoon, Matthews spoke on the phone with his friend Howard Fineman, an NBC News/MSNBC contributor. "He’s upbeat, not bitter," Fineman wrote on Twitter. "Eager for more writing, speaking out, after a record run in a cold business hosting an era-defining show. Perfect person? No, no one is. Essentially decent guy and family man? Yes. Genius at politics? Def. My friend? Always."

Pressed for more details, Fineman told THR that he didn't get into the timing of the announcement or any future television plans Matthews might have. "It was strictly a personal 'love you, man' call with a guy I’ve known, worked with and been friends with for 35 years," Fineman said.