MSNBC replacing Rachel Maddow with previously canceled Alex Wagner puzzles insiders: ‘No institutional memory’

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MSNBC named Alex Wagner as Rachel Maddow’s timeslot replacement for the four days a week the network’s biggest star isn’t on the air, but insiders have questioned why execs would attempt to replace Maddow with a previously canceled host who “never moved the needle on television.” MSNBC finished the second quarter of 2022 with its smallest audience among the advertiser-coveted demographic of adults aged 25-54 since 2003. MSNBC’s nearly two-decade low in the critical category came during a jam-packed stretch of news that included Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, the Uvalde, Texas school shooting, and the beginning of the January 6 committee hearings. The second quarter also featured Maddow scaling back her workload to once a week, as she began hosting “The Rachel Maddow Show” only on Monday nights last month. NBC has selected Wagner, a former MSNBC host, to replace Maddow with a new program’s 9 p.m. ET time slot Tuesdays through Fridays beginning in August. “Clearly there’s no institutional memory at NBC,” a former high-level NBC News staffer whose tenure overlapped with Wagner’s first MSNBC stint told Fox News Digital. 
MSNBC named Alex Wagner as Rachel Maddow’s replacement four nights per week. 
MSNBC TAPS ALEX WAGNER TO FILL RACHEL MADDOW VOID DESPITE NETWORK’S HISTORY OF SCRAPPING HER PROGRAMS”Alex Wagner’s 4 p.m. show there was a disaster both in ratings and behind the scenes where it was known for chaotic management,” the former staffer continued. “The show was canceled, and she left and ended up at The Atlantic. That doesn’t happen if you’re a success in cable news.” In 2015, MSNBC canceled her dayside program “Now” after a four-year run. At the time, MSNBC claimed Wagner’s show was among those cut as part of a programming reshuffling in order to shift daytime towards straight news – but the program’s ratings weren’t exactly desirable. Previously a panel-style show airing at 12 noon ET, its set-up was changed and moved to 4 p.m. in 2014, following the resignation of host Martin Bashir for his vitriolic remarks about Sarah Palin. “Now” averaged only 384,000 total viewers and a mere 55,000 among the demo in its final month to trail Fox News at 4 p.m.  ET by 218% in both categories. The 152 episodes of “Now” that aired in 2015 before it was canceled averaged only 328,000 total viewers and 49,000 among the demo to trail Fox News by over 280% in each measurable. Then in 2016, MSNBC scrapped a weekend show Wagner was set to launch after the network previously announced the program. She joined The Atlantic as a senior editor that same year. MSNBC, CNN FACE GAPING HOLES IN PRIMETIME AFTER RACHEL MADDOW, CHRIS CUOMO SAGAS LEAVE 9 PM TIME SLOT UNSTABLEWagner is also known for her role on Showtime’s political documentary series, “The Circus,” but that hasn’t been a ratings draw, either. The seventh season of “The Circus” averaged only 183,000 total viewers and 52,000 among the demo to finish well behind other Showtime programs such as “Billions” and “First Lady.” The staunchly liberal Wagner has also worked at CBS News. Meanwhile, MSNBC’s primetime lineup shed 23% of its total viewers and 40% among the key demo compared to 2021 when Maddow was actually on five nights per week. 
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow only hosts the network’s 9 p.m.  ET program on Monday evenings after scaling back her workload. 
(Getty Images)Fourth Watch editor Steve Krakauer, a former CNN producer who now covers the media industry, feels the “bizarre arrangement” isn’t going to solve the network’s ratings issues.   “I’m sure Alex Wagner is a fine permanent host for the four days Rachel Maddow won’t be in the chair, but that’s sort of the problem – the bizarre arrangement where Rachel Maddow hosts a weekly show that also happens to be a weekday primetime hour seems entirely untenable,” Krakauer told Fox News Digital. “By structuring the hour this way, MSNBC isn’t giving its audience the host it craves for more than 20% of the week, while hampering Wagner or whoever got the job from being able to fully establish the hour for themselves,” he continued. Krakauer understands why MSNBC would attempt such a bizarre scenario, as Maddow remains the “undisputed ratings draw for the network, and if they lose her entirely they need to essentially build primetime from square one,” but he doesn’t think it will be a successful arrangement. “One day of Maddow is better than zero,” Krakauer said. “But in this current set-up, I can’t imagine how anyone outside of a big-name hire will be able to establish themselves enough to make a ratings impact. Outside of Trump beginning his 2024 campaign this weekend, I don’t see a way for MSNBC to regain its primetime ratings unless Maddow decides to re-engage with the network, or leaves entirely and allows them to rebuild from the ground up.”MSNBC FLOPS IN MAY: NETWORK HAD SMALLEST MONTHLY AUDIENCE SINCE 1999 AMONG VIEWERS COVETED BY ADVERTISERS Puck’s Dylan Byers, a former NBC reporter himself, recently penned a scathing examination of the situation, noting that MSNBC brass has been careful to “manage expectations” for Wagner. Byers wrote that Wagner being selected to replace Maddow “appears to reflect the limited cards at MSNBC’s disposal” and criticized Jones for saying the network had an “incredible bench” in a recent interview. “That’s an odd thing to say when discussing a role that went to someone who previous show was canceled in 2015 and wasn’t even on the bench until a few months ago,” Byers wrote. “The widespread conventional wisdom among 30 Rock insiders and TV news veterans is that, when it comes to Maddow, MSNBC never had a bench.”
Rachel Maddow, who makes roughly $30 million per year, announced earlier this year that she would only host “The Rachel Maddow Show” once a week, on Monday evenings, so that she could focus on other projects. 
Byers feels one explanation is that MSNBC “got complacent with [Maddow’s] success and her ability to carry the primetime lineup and didn’t bother to do the hard, years-long work of cultivating her replacement.”He added that Wagner is “arguably the best available option” at this point, but that doesn’t mean she will draw viewers. The Puck News senior correspondent said many industry experts have simultaneously praised Wagner “while criticizing the move to anoint her” as Maddow’s replacement. “Wagner has never moved the needle on television,” Byers wrote. “Perhaps she finds a way to break through the noise; perhaps MSNBC drifts into irrelevance while being managed for profitability.”It’s unclear why MSNBC brass expects Wagner to have better luck attracting viewers than she did when her program was scrapped in 2015, but the former high-level employee who questioned the network’s “institutional memory” snarked that NBCUniversal News Group chairman Cesar Conde might be aiming to make friends in high places. CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APPIn 2014 when Wagner was still hosting a daytime show on MSNBC, she married then-White House chef Sam Kass in an elaborate ceremony attended by President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and their daughters, Sasha and Malia. “Conde must be hoping this will give him some social cache with Michelle Obama because otherwise this hire is nonsensical,” the former NBC News staffer said. All ratings data courtesy of Nielsen Media Research. Fox News’ Joseph A. Wulfsohn contributed to this report.   Brian Flood is a media reporter for Fox News Digital. Story tips can be sent to and on Twitter: @briansflood. 

Mojtaba Sadira

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