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MSNBC is nothing without Rachel Maddow.
Maddow has been on an extended hiatus since the start of the month as she works to turn her podcast, Bag Man, into a movie. (Yes, Rachel Maddow has a podcast. And, yes, she’s trying to make a movie.)
In her absence, MSNBC has rotated hosts during the 9 pm hour, but it turns out, the viewers don’t like any of them. They miss Maddow already.
Ali Velshi got a spin from Feb. 7-11, and a quarter of the network’s viewers — in both total viewership and the 25-54 age demographic — instantly turned her off.
Then last week, Alex Wagner, who claims to be a journalist, continued the slide. Viewership with Wagner fell 21% compared to Maddow two weeks prior.
Because of Velshi and Wagner’s struggles, CNN — a network battling its own issues at the moment — has closed the gap between MSNBC in primetime in a matter of two weeks.
While it’s easy to blame Velshi and Wagner because they do not draw well on television — MSNBC’s canceled Wagner’s low-rated program in 2015 — this collapse in ratings says more about Maddow than it does MSNBC’s bench.
A network measures individual television success as follows:
You take the base average — the number of viewers who tune in at a specific time slot, no matter the host — then measure whether a particular host raises, drops or maintains that average.
For example, The Rachel Maddow Show averaged 2.6 million in 2021 at 9 pm. Meanwhile, MSNBC’s All in with Chris Hayes drew 1.57 million at 8 pm and Last Word averaged 1.79 million at 10 pm.
According to these measurements, MSNBC averages around 1.6 million viewers during primetime hours (8-11 pm) but another million watch the channel to see Maddow and Maddow alone. They turn to MSNBC when Maddow comes on, then turn it off at the conclusion of her program.
Maddow is a dishonest broker who rode RussiaGate to the top, but to her credit, she has maintained her reach even with Donald Trump gone and Joe Biden in office. Maddow is, by far, the biggest star in progressive media.
Without Maddow, MSNBC is CNN, a dying network barely holding on to retired liberals who have slow internet. And soon, that might be all MSNBC is.
MSNBC re-signed Rachel Maddow through the 2024 election for $30 million per year, but the deal includes an option for Maddow to terminate her nightly TV show in April 2022. Should Maddow transition from a daily to weekly host later this year — which her contract allows — MSNBC will have to rely on nobodys like Alex Wagner and Ali Velshi to carry the day, which bodes ill for the network.
“We’re just taking it one step at a time,” Maddow told viewers when announcing her hiatus.
No network is as dependent upon a single host as MSNBC is on Rachel Maddow. Hopefully, she doesn’t shatter the place next month…