MSNBC, CNN face gaping holes in primetime after Rachel Maddow, Chris Cuomo sagas leave 9 pm timeslot unstable

Media top headlines February 7

In media news today, The Washington Post gets slammed for a ‘morally bankrupt’ column using a colleague’s death to drag Joe Rogan, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel issues an apology for false COVID claim in MSNBC interview, and Bill Maher slams cancel culture after Whoopi Goldberg, Jeff Zucker scandals.

Unusual situations with MSNBC and CNN’s star anchors have left them with significant holes to fill during one of the most important hours of the day

Rachel Maddow has gone on temporary hiatus at MSNBC, while Chris Cuomo was fired after a series of scandal brought shame to CNN. While the reasons for their absences are quite different, the liberal networks have found themselves in unstable situations without their former 9 p.m. ET mainstays.

“The 9 p.m. hour in all of television is usually a tentpole for the entire primetime lineup. That CNN and MSNBC are both now floundering in that time slot is really a drag on their entire primetime,” McCall told Fox News Digital. 

Rachel Maddow and Chris Cuomo have left gaping holes at MSNBC and CNN. 

The 9 p.m. ET hour is historically prime real estate for any network, as cable and broadcast stations both traditionally put some of their most popular programs in the middle of the critical 8-11 p.m. ET window. NBC’s “Must See TV” lineup of the 1990s featured “Seinfeld,” at 9 p.m., while “Cheers” occupied the coveted window before that. ABC’s “Monday Night Football” kicked off at 9 p.m. for over three decades and CNN’s “Larry King Live” aired at that time during the pre-Jeff Zucker glory days of CNN. The laundry list of prominent shows to occupy the 9 p.m. hour is endless, but it doesn’t include anything airing on CNN or MSNBC in the near future. 

“That both CNN and MSNBC are now struggling in a key time slot indicates that both channels not only have weak benches of talent, but that they also failed to plan ahead and have alternative hosts prepared to step up to the plate,” McCall said. 

CNN has experimented with different options at 9 p.m. ET since it was forced to terminate Cuomo last year, but none have been able to find an audience. MSNBC’s 9 p.m. Maddow-sized crater begins on Monday. 

"Cuomo Prime Time" was once CNN’s most-popular show. 

Maddow announced last week that she would be off MSNBC for several weeks, taking a hiatus to work on other projects at least until sometime in April. She hinted that other extended absences could be in her future, and it has been reported that she’s looking to scale back her daily program because of professional burnout. 

“We’re just taking it one step at a time,” Maddow told viewers.

Maddow, like Cuomo, is being replaced by a rotating pool of hosts beginning with Ali Velshi. The move puts an unproved primetime host in the middle of “All in with Chris Hayes” and “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell,” which were already struggling among the advertiser-coveted demographic. 

“The hiatus of Maddow is really a problem for MSNBC because Hayes before 9 p.m. and O’Donnell after 9 p.m. just can’t generate sufficient viewership to prop up the evening’s audience,” McCall said. 

CNN’s Jim Acosta averaged only 561,000 viewers through the first three episodes of his primetime audition.

As for CNN, the liberal network has used Michael Smerconish in Cuomo’s old spot, extended Anderson Cooper’s program and spent two weeks airing poorly rated “Democracy in Peril,” specials hosted by Brianna Keilar and Jim Acosta, but none of the options have resonated with Americans. 

Since Dec. 6, the first weekday after Cuomo was shown the door, CNN has averaged a dismal 631,000 viewers at 9 p.m. During that same time period, Fox News’ “Hannity” averaged 2.8 million and Maddow pulled in 2.1 million for MSNBC. 

“CNN’s ratings problems are so severe now that it could well take years and a major strategic redirection to recover,” McCall said. 

Rachel Maddow’s absence puts unproved primetime hosts in the middle of "All in with Chris Hayes" and "The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell," which were already struggling among the advertiser-coveted demographic. 

It’s unclear if Velshi and other MSNBC fill-in hosts will be able to keep the ship afloat, but Maddow has been the network’s most-watched host for years and CNN has shown that viewers don’t stick around when a popular program is replaced with rotating bit players. 

Cornell Law School professor and media critic William A. Jacobson feels holes at 9 p.m. are simply the latest signs that liberal networks are having trouble remaining relevant under President Biden. 

“CNN and MSNBC built their current brands around hatred of Donald Trump and conspiracy theories of Russia collusion that never held up. Now that Trump no longer is president and Biden is struggling, those networks don’t seem to know what they want to be,” Jacobson told Fox News Digital. “The loss of two marquee hosts for reasons unrelated to branding makes the identity problem worse.”

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