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Here were the 20 highest-rated cable news programs for the year 2021 (from 12/18/2020 to 12/12/21), according to Nielsen Media Research
- Tucker Carlson Tonight, Fox News: 3.21 million
- The Five, Fox News: 2.92 million
- Hannity, Fox News: 2.87 million
- Rachel Maddow Show, MSNBC: 2.6 million
- The Ingraham Angle, Fox News: 2.27 million
- Special Report, Fox News: 2.12 million
- Fox News Primetime, Fox News: 1.86 million
- Last Word, MSNBC: 1.79 million
- Gutfeld, Fox News: 1.69 million
- Deadline: White House, MSNBC: 1.59 million
- All in with Chris Hayes, MSNBC: 1.57 million
- Outnumbered, Fox News: 1.57 million
- America’s Newsroom, Fox News: 1.5 million
- The Beat With Ari Melber, MSNBC: 1.37 million
- The Faulkner Focus, Fox News: 1.47 million
- ReidOut, MSNBC: 1.44 million
- MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson, MSNBC: 1.44 million
- MSNBC Live with Katy Tur, MSNBC: 1.43 million
- The Story, Fox News: 1.41 million
- Your World with Neil Cavuto, Fox News: 1.41 million
The highest-rated CNN program in 2021, Cuomo Prime Time, ranked 25th overall with 1.27 million viewers.
That’s cable news in 2021. Looking ahead, the stories to watch are undoubtedly the primetime openings. In 2022, CNN will replace Chris Cuomo at 9 pm. Fox News has yet to name a permanent host for its 7 pm hour. MSNBC must fill its 11 pm time slot following the departure of Brian Williams as the network also prepares for Rachel Maddow to leave its daily lineup in the spring.
Of the openings, MSNBC faces the most challenges. Maddow was worth roughly one million more viewers than any other MSNBC host in 2021. Plus, Last Word only averaged 1.8 million because it follows Maddow and inherits some of her viewers.
Even with the midterm spike in 2022, MSNBC could fail to average 2 million viewers at any point of the day without Maddow. Current MSNBC hosts like Nicolle Wallace, Joy Reid (obviously), and Chris Hayes are not the answer.
Fox News has several options at 7 pm, all of which should keep the time slot among the top 10 programs in 2022. Brian Kilmeade, Pete Hegseth, Will Cain, and Jesse Watters have all proven their value to a solo show over the past year.
So the wild card is CNN’s decision at 9 pm. While MSNBC cannot replace Maddow — and the network knows that — CNN could hold close to Cuomo’s average (adjusted for the 2022 midterm news spike). Jake Tapper is the safest pick, but Michael Smerconish is another name to watch. Smerconish has guest-hosted the 9 pm hour since CNN fired Cuomo earlier in December. Smerconish has performed relatively well compared to other CNN shows — for what that’s worth.
Brianna Keilar and Don Lemon are two other names Jeff Zucker is reportedly considering, both of whom would be damning to the network’s ratings. I mean, look at the numbers for New Day and Don Lemon Tonight, neither made the top 35.