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MSNBC continues to take heat on the heels of Rachel Maddow announcing she would significantly cut her on-air schedule to focus on other projects, leaving the progressive cable news outlet without a reliable replacement for its cash cow.
Puck senior media correspondent and co-founder Dylan Byers scolded NBC Universal in a scathing Friday night piece headlined, “The Maddow Iceberg,” which explored what’s going on at MSNBC and why leadership doesn’t seem to have a plan to replace its biggest star. Byers, a former NBC News media reporter, pointed out his old employer’s recent piece on why Americans procrastinate on filing their taxes had a glass-house feel to it.
MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” struggled without its namesake host, but Rachel Maddow plans to scale back her workload.
“The gist, of course, was that such procrastination is absurd. Tax day is inevitable, so why does anyone wait until the 11th hour to deal with it? The same question might reasonably be asked of NBC’s handling of Rachel Maddow’s long-anticipated departure from her nightly MSNBC show,” Byers wrote.
Maddow returned last week from a two-month hiatus that saw her show struggle as replacement hosts failed to maintain her audience, only to announce she would soon scale back her on-air duties once again and only anchor her program on Monday evenings. Maddow’s desire to do less on-air work was well-known, and Byers noted that she negotiated “the option to end her nightly show on April 30 and instead focus on other projects” when she signed a $30 million annual deal last year.
“Maddow isn’t just MSNBC’s biggest star—she is prime time. MSNBC relied on her as its sole ratings powerhouse because it had no remotely comparable talents, and because [NBCUniversal C.E.O. Jeff] Shell & Co. either believed the network couldn’t afford to lose her or because they didn’t want to be seen as the ones responsible for losing her,” Byers wrote.
MSNBC continues to take heat on the heels of Rachel Maddow announcing she would cut 80% of her on-air schedule to focus on other projects, leaving the progressive cable news outlet without a reliable replacement for its cash cow. (Photo by Virginia Sherwood/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)
“The overwhelming consensus in the building was that MSNBC had no bench—no heir apparent who could be groomed to take Maddow’s place and deliver comparable ratings. All of which is to say that Shell and his deputies Cesar Conde and Rashida Jones had about 200 days to come up with a post-Maddow strategy: a bold new hire to anchor the primetime lineup, or at least an internal promotion that, coupled with the right marketing strategy, might signal the next iteration of the avowedly liberal cable news network,” Byers wrote. “And yet, here we are.”
MSNBC does not have a replacement for Maddow, and instead will use a rotating panel of guest hosts to anchor what Byers called the “bland, talent-less title” of MSNBC Prime four days a week when Maddow is busy with other ventures.
“The contingency plan, it seems, isn’t really much of a plan at all,” he wrote, adding that Maddow’s staffers “got hit with a ton of bricks” when they learned they’d primarily focus on MSNBC’s 9 p.m. offering instead of Maddow’s other projects. MSNBC, in a statement, insisted to Byers that Maddow “cares deeply about her staff and has been transparent about working through these issues thoughtfully” during the process.
“Whatever the case, this new structure is confounding on multiple levels, as the network presumably continues to attempt to articulate its post-Trump bold vision for what MSNBC is, other than a mash-up of Joe Scarborough & friends, NBC News and woke, self-righteous liberals living in the shadow of a former star who would rather not deal with the grind,” Byers wrote.
Rachel Maddow plans to host her nightly MSNBC program only once per week starting next month.
During the first quarter of 2022, MSNBC hemorrhaged an alarming portion of its audience compared to the first quarter of last year, despite Russia’s invasion of Ukraine creating a historic news cycle. MSNBC averaged 712,000 viewers, shedding 48% of its audience compared to last year.
MSNBC also lost 60% of its audience among the key news demographic of adults age 25-54, averaging only 87,000 compared to 217,000 last year. Byers, a veteran media reporter who has worked for CNN in addition to NBC, suggested MSNBC’s primetime lineup might not even matter.
“Maddow’s move to streaming projects and podcasts is indicative of where consumer interest is heading anyway: away from linear, appointment viewing and toward on-demand video and audio. If Maddow doesn’t want to stick around to fight the daily ratings game, why should MSNBC? It turns a profit simply by existing as a part of the cable bundle and reaping the sub fees. As I wrote in March, there’s no iron-clad law that cable news needs to be competitive (though it always has been). Hell, if the post-Maddow primetime lineup doesn’t work out, they could replace it with Shark Tank,” he wrote.
Byers then cited a “high-level insider” at MSNBC who thinks the network is in deep trouble.
“The existential threat for MSNBC is MSNBC itself. It’s a quickly shrinking iceberg,” the insider told Byers. “I think [Shell] sees little value in a traditional cable anchor… and that may be the thing that melts the cable news iceberg faster than anything external.”
A former NBC News employee said last week that Conde should lose his job for how he handled the situation.
“Cesar Conde should be fired for the embarrassing Maddow deal alone where she’s paid eight figures to barely work while MSNBC ratings crater. ‘Today’ show ratings are also abysmal— the worst in its history,” a former high-level employee of NBC News who is familiar with the company’s inner workings told Fox News Digital.