The media has extensively documented the disastrous plunge in prime-time ratings at MSNBC for at least a year, and it has only gone downhill since. Last month, Mediaite reported that MSNBC’s overall ratings in the key 25-54YO demo managed to come in fifth place, losing not only to Fox and CNN but also CNBC and HLN.  Many have speculated what NBC and Comcast would do to resurrect their prime-time fortunes, but Joe Concha hears that NBC has decided to fix the daytime lineup first — by booting opinion shows for hard news:

A well-placed source tells me MSNBC will announce today major changes to its afternoon lineup…arguably the most significant revamp the network has made at one time in its 19-year history.

Out: The Cycle at 3:00 PM. Now with Alex Wagner at 4:00 PM. The Ed Show with Ed Schultz at 5:00 PM (all times eastern).

In: Chuck Todd at 5:00 PM. Similar to Jake Tapper at CNN doing both weekday afternoons (hosting The Lead) and anchoring Sunday morning’s State of the Union, Todd will also continue to work weekends as moderator of Sunday’s Meet the Press. Todd’s MSNBC show will likely take on its old name The Daily Rundown, but that is not a guarantee.

NBC/Comcast brought Andy Lack back earlier this year, and it appears that Lack wants to bring 1996 back. When NBC launched the cable channel, the first iteration was a hard-news channel similar to CNN that would allow NBC News to have its own outlet for news reporting, especially in daytime. Only later did the channel drift to an almost-all-opinion format. According to Concha, that’s what they’ll have again. Lack will keep Andrea Mitchell and Thomas Roberts to handle the news desk and interviews, while Todd will get the 5 pm slot.

That leaves a two-hour hole in the middle of daytime programming, though. Concha thinks Brian Williams may get the 3-5 slot in between. That seems like a tall order for a man just coming back from a credibility collapse. The initial assumption was that Williams would handle breaking news and short update segments to ease back into the business. If Williams is to host a whole show, why not keep it to an hour, and let Chuck Todd handle a two-hour news broadcast instead?

At some point, Lack and NBC will have to do something about its prime-time lineup, but perhaps not right away. They may wait to see if the shift to hard news could improve matters, which it could in two ways. The new lineup may provide a better lead-in for prime time, especially with Todd handling the 5-6 slot. The elimination of the lesser talking-head shows during the day could also make the prime-time shows more unique and more interesting for MSNBC viewers. Lack may be able to wait a while to see how the daytime change could organically impact prime time, although NBC and Comcast have been waiting a very long time for drastic changes.

These changes do make a lot of sense in the long run, even if they’re incomplete. NBC News presumably has lots of reportorial talent in the field — so why waste valuable air time on the opinions of Alex Wagner and Ed Schultz, especially since it’s been clear for ages that few find them interesting any longer? Use the channel to build the brands of their own up-and-comers in news, and let the opiners find their own airspace. Even if they can’t get the ratings that CNN and Fox get, at least they’re developing in-house talent rather than eroding their credibility. They had the right idea in 1996, and it took way too long for NBC to recognize it.