On Monday night inside the chic L’Avenue at Saks Paris restaurant in midtown Manhattan, MSNBC President Rashida Jones hosted an intimate dinner to celebrate Alex Wagner.
The glitzy event was attended by some of the biggest names in the media elite, including MSNBC host Chris Hayes, Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Radhika Jones, former White House press secretary turned MSNBC host Jen Psaki, New York magazine writer Olivia. Nuzzi, and Playbook co-author Ryan Lizza, among others. They were greeted with champagne and treated to a three-course dinner, which I’m told included delicious fries, and ended with a memorable riff on campfire s’mores for dessert.
Jones called the group to welcome Wagner, who in mid-August took over four nights in the 9 p.m. time slot, previously hosted by Rachel Maddow. “We’re so happy to have you back in the family and we can’t wait to celebrate,” Jones said as he toasted “Alex Wagner Tonight.”
But, from a ratings point of view, Wagner’s show was anything but successful. And although the issue has been whispered about in some industry circles, it has received surprisingly little attention in the press.
In September, on the nights “Alex Wagner Tonight” aired, MSNBC saw a surprising year-over-year drop since 2021, when Maddow hosted. In the 25-54 advertising demo, Wagner’s show lost 50% of Maddow’s audience, falling from an average of 304,000 viewers in 2021 to 151,000 in 2022. And the total number of viewers dropped by 34%, from 2.4 million to 1.6 million. million
To be clear, no one expected Wagner to fill the huge void left by Maddow, a once-in-a-generation talent who became a key #Resistance icon under Donald Trump’s presidency. Cable news viewership in general has seen a steady decline since Trump left office. And Wagner has taken over “MSNBC Prime,” the show that temporarily filled Maddow’s void before Wagner took over.
But the drop in viewership must be worrying for 30 Rock executives. As a former TV director told me, “it’s worse than: we don’t expect it [Wagner] To perform at Rachel’s level,” he described the drop in ratings as “brutal” and “very concerning.”
“A 50 percent drop in the 25-54 key demo is a 50 percent drop in your billed viewership,” the former executive said. “Imagine starting a store or restaurant and losing 50 percent of your billable customers. Not your look-loos. Your paying customers”.
An MSNBC spokeswoman declined to comment. To be fair, Wagner’s soft ratings have surpassed CNN’s. But they also come at a time when CNN has been without a star host at 9 p.m. after the network fired former prime time anchor Chris Cuomo last year.
That’s about to change Monday, at least a little, when CNN puts a marquee-level talent named Jake Tapper in the 9 p.m. slot. Tapper, one of CNN’s highest-rated anchors, will begin hosting a special program that will run until midterm.
This means that for the first time in a while, the real 9pm ratings race will finally be underway.
► Meanwhile: Ratings are in for Chris Cuomo’s NewsNation debut. At 8:00 p.m., Cuomo averaged 147,000 viewers, with an abysmal 8,000 in the 25-54 demo. That makes it, for now, the king of NewsNation’s news list (although Dan Abrams beat it out significantly in the demo). But it’s a far cry from what he rated in his days at CNN.