MSNBC’s Chris Hayes Gambit

MSNBC in deciding to move Ed Schultz out and Chris Hayes in – despite Schultz’s claims that the move was his decision nobody is really buying that it was all his decision – may be exchanging one headache for another.

I documented earlier this year that Schultz just wasn’t holding on to his election year audience the way Maddow was. This factoid must not have been lost on MSNBC brass and they came to the conclusion that they could do better than Ed. Thus the dearth of Ed Schultz promotions off the network.

MSNBC decided that the choice to replace Schultz should be Chris Hayes. It seems like a logical move, at first; certainly a better move than bringing in someone with little name recognition like Ezra Klein.

Hayes has name recognition. Hayes’ show Up had a small albeit rabidly devoted following. Up won a lot of critic’s hearts with its deep dive go slow multi-segmented programming.

Therein lies the problem because MSNBC is not moving Up to 8pm. It’s moving Chris Hayes to 8pm.

Let’s be perfectly clear here. Up is dead. MSNBC may choose to transfer the name along with Hayes but everything that made Up what it was will be gone.

Up is nontransferable. It can’t go from multi-hour to just an hour. It can’t go from long segments with the same panel to shorter segments with different panels and more commercials (primetime does air more commercials). MSNBC’s primetime may be wonky but it’s a fast paced wonky; the antithesis of Up.

But Hayes is the star and that’s what matters right? Yes and no. If you are among those who considered Up a success story, Up’s format made that show work almost as much as Hayes did. You can’t separate one from the other and expect business as usual. Yet that is precisely what MSNBC now faces because Up won’t transfer over but Hayes will.

MSNBC seems cognizant of this fact to some degree as evidenced by their press release which gave scant details on the new 8pm show. Indeed, the entire release is pitched as bringing Hayes over and not Up with Chris Hayes.

Can MSNBC craft a new show with a different format around Hayes? Sure. But it’ll be closer to a reboot than a transfer for Hayes than MSNBC will likely admit. Hayes is battle tested but he’s Up battle tested. This will be something different from Up and there are some unknowns there that the network will have to contend with.

Chief of these are can the low key Hayes fit in a timeslot that has traditionally been for the bomb throwers? O’Reilly, Olbermann, Nancy Grace, Ed Schultz…see a pattern? Lawrence O’Donnell didn’t work out there, if you recall. Now MSNBC is again going to try the lower key wonky approach as the follow up to the chest thumping Hardball’s 7pm repeat with a host who can’t bring the show he was known for with him. It will be interesting to see how this works out. If it works out.

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37 Responses to “MSNBC’s Chris Hayes Gambit”

  1. And quite the role model for little boys who have no affinity for toy guns and believe sharing with neighbor kids should be mandatory.

    Quite the loss for beer drinking men on the picket line.

  2. “Therein lies the problem because MSNBC is not moving Up to 8pm. It’s moving Chris Hayes to 8pm.”

    I agree that moving Hayes to 8PM is a gamble. He wasn’t all that good when subbing for Maddow and other PT hosts and only really came into his own when given the ‘UP’ format.

    I also agree that the ‘UP’ format doesn’t work at 8PM. long form wonky discussion is not the format for PT. Whether Hayes will work in PT depends on MSNBC finding a new format that Hayes can make work like he did with ‘UP’.That is a very big question.

    The ‘UP’ format, on the other hand, can be easily transferred to another wonky host or hosts; of which MSNBC has a two ready to go – Ezra Klein and Joy Reid. Ari Melber or Sam Stein could also work in the ‘UP’ format or you could go with any combination of the four.

  3. Schultz’s wife was very, very ill last year. His “personal reasons” may have far more truth than you cynically dismiss.

  4. Schultz’s wife was very, very ill last year. His “personal reasons” may have far more truth than you cynically dismiss.

    Yes, I mentioned this yesterday. I think his family situation; and his suspicion that his days in Primetime were numbered; caused him to jump before he was jumped. It was his decision.

    I’m not thrilled with Hayes as his replacement. It’s a safe, boring move.

  5. Jumping wasn’t a safe decision. Fall will probably kill him.

  6. Surprised MSNBC didn’t go for a another firey person at 8 , they’ve had one since 2003 with the exception of a short time in 2011. I take it Matthews doesn’t want to be at 8pm.

  7. [...] the day’s news rather than tackling a specific topic, which means he’ll probably end up resorting to the same-old-same-old cable format too. Oh [...]

  8. icemannyr Says:

    Besides Hayes filling in for Rachel, I had no idea who he was or what he was doing before joining MSNBC.

    I have no interest in the MSNBC weekend shows where it’s a liberal host talking to four liberal guests for 2 hours.

    The choice does seem very boring to me.

  9. I’m happy for Hayes, but will greatly miss Up. I doubt his primetime show can or will be as good.

  10. One way in which there could be a grain of truth to Shultz’s rosy spin is that he may have been offered an opportunity to slide back to an earlier weekday hour and declined. Maybe he viewed that as too direct a demotion, and facing that choice, he prefers to be freed up with the weekend gig. If the network didn’t consider moving him into one of the Hardball hours for instance, they’re crazy.

    I did not care for Schultz’s show and rarely watched it. Yet I can’t help feel a certain sympathy for him, in the sense that he helped save MSNBC’s hide when Olbermann crashed and burned and O’Donnell didn’t work at 8PM. Big Ed stabilized that crucial timeslot during a crucial election year when they had no one else to put there. I understand why MSBNC can’t continue to put a host who doesn’t fit the brand and doesn’t mesh well with Maddow in a signature slot. But it kinda sucks, in the karmic sense.

  11. savefarris Says:

    Just another multi-national corporation cutting jobs for the middle class…

  12. I’m not a fan of Ed’s style but this Chris Hayes experiment is going to fail. Ed Schultz was a warrior for the middle class. Chris Hayes is a classic New York liberal.

    For the first time ever, I agree with Larry Kelly. They’re completely abandoning the audience of viewers, people who work blue collar jobs and want someone to speak for THEM.

  13. imnotblue Says:

    “Warrior for the middle class”

    A.K.A. “Well-paid Union spokesman.”

  14. Spud, weren’t you the one that used to complain that Hayes and Maddow were essentially the same person?

  15. I believe that came from the youngster, TaterTot.

  16. “this Chris Hayes experiment is going to fail. Ed Schultz was a warrior for the middle class. Chris Hayes is a classic New York liberal.”

    ^^ The new show may fail but it’s not because Ed is “a warrior for the middle class” or because.”Chris Hayes is a classic New York liberal.” Like in all cable news nets half the MSNBC audience is baked in and will watch whomever they put on the air. They watch MSNBC and little else. Much of the rest is made up of loyal viewers of either Ed or Chris and they will follow their guy to the new timeslot and may or may not watch the new show. The remaining audience are a mix of those tuning in to see what MSNBC is broadcasting, to see news about a particular news story that is hot that day or just clicking the remote to find something to watch. I don’t expect a big change in the ratings, up or down, for a number of months – if ever; until the new format has had some time to be tested.

    As for the blue collar audience that followed Ed; I don’t see them going away from the network. They will just move to the weekend only to be replaced by Hayes loyal followers at the 8PM slot.

  17. Being that apparently no one here is a fan of Hayes, I’ll say that he will do a vastly superior show to what The Ed Show ever was. The UP format won’t survive the transition, but I’m guessing much of his staff will remain. And they’ve been nothing short of awesome at putting those weekend panel shows together.

    How will the ratings be? Fritz is correct that there’s a baseline loyal audience he won’t lose. Even if there’s an initial dip, the demo numbers should be strong. With time, Hayes / Maddow is a coherent block of programming that can draw a true stylistic and generational contrast to O’Reilly / Hannity. They’re never going to touch FNC’s overall numbers, but this could put some real pressure on Fox to get younger in time for the 2016 election season.

  18. bushleaguer Says:

    gnome –

    I don’t know if it will make a difference, but what I would say could cause problems is that there could be little difference in both the show content and the presentation when it comes to Hayes and then Maddow. The O’Reilly/Hannity comparison doesn’t fit because they are two different shows covering different topics. I guess Hayes and Maddow can get together while doing show prep and make sure there isn’t too much repetition but it would have been better to bring in someone who brings in something fresh.

  19. savefarris Says:

    Let’s start brainstorming names, people:

    “Upper West Side” with Chris Hayes
    “Continuing Resolution” with Chris Hayes
    “Hillary HQ” with Chris Hayes
    “The Emmanuel Goldstein 60 Minute Hate” with Chris Hayes
    “Balanced Approach” with Chris Hayes
    “Nation Nightly” with Chris Hayes
    Chris Hayes Presents: “Marco Rubio is a C*nt”

  20. Being better than The Ed Show is a low bar. Going from “annoying” to “boring” is a sideways move. I respected UP for taking the time to explore topics, but that was the only interesting thing about it. Chris Hayes is a yawn to watch.

  21. I think they should just remake LASSIE with Chris Hayes as Timmy.

  22. imnotblue Says:

    @ savefarris

    “Political Nap” with Chris Hayes
    “I’m Not Rachel Maddow” with Chris Hayes
    “Early Evening” with Chris Hayes
    “Hipster Hullabaloo” with Chris Hayes
    “The Show Before Rachel Maddow” with Chris Hayes
    “Studio News And Real Knows: SNARK” with Chris Hayes

  23. How about just re-broadcast the first hour of “Morning Joe” at 8 p.m. Best morning show on TV, and I rarely get to see the start of it. Called it “Refried Barnacle and After Dinner Latte.”

    I understand the “branding” idea of mating (metaphorically speaking) Hayes with Maddow, and this either will work very well as hoped, or fail spectacularly. I doubt much of a middle ground. If a gamble on the rather milquetoast Hayes was due, I personally would rather have seen Hayes and Maddow followed by Ed at 10 again, and O’Donnell sent to the weekend in Hayes’s place (wait no he would kill the lead in to Melissa Harris-Perry. Dump O’Donnell somewhere next to Chris Hanson later.) Larry could not carry the 8 pm slot, and quite frankly he is a pompous arse who coasts on his past life as a sometimes screenwriter for West Wing. If he has any ratings at all at 10, I figure it’s due to carryover from Maddow, and I understand Ed’s rerun at 11 does very well in that time slot.

    It may be that this Hayes-Maddow-Schultz lineup was considered, and Ed said no. If I were Ed, at his age (not young, but not washed up like O’Donnell) with a sick wife, I would have taken the weekend gamble rather than go back to 10 pm. Ed has a chance to be a sort of IWW Charles Kuralt with his “working people’s” road show schtick. Not many will watch, but if he can get good stuff on a regular basis like the Romney whistleblower interview, he can develop a cult following and work a great deal less.

    But three hours of freshly brewed latte liberalism from Hayes, Maddow, and O’Donnell could prove interminable.

  24. Ima Hick: conventional wisdom is that O’Donnell has done very well at 10PM, nipping at and sometimes beating Greta. I’m not sure just how much credit he deserves there. Van Susteren’s numbers have collapsed (especially in the demo) more than his have exploded. Hannity has lost a chunk too, again mostly in the demo. That’s what I’m getting at with this MSNBC youth gambit stepping up pressure on FNC to do something fresh in prime. It may be hard to imagine any crossover between MSNBC and FNC viewers. But there are ‘branding’ image issues here, especially when they resume being nonstop DNC / RNC propaganda arms in three years.

  25. savefarris Says:

    “I Told You So” with Chris Hayes
    “Smarmalicious” with Chris Hayes
    “Sanctimony R Us” with Chris Hayes
    “One and a Half Lesbians” with Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow

  26. imnotblue Says:

    @ save

    You win. “One and a half Lesbians” made me laugh. Take the crown.

  27. imnotblue: “The Show Before Rachel Maddow” with Chris Hayes is how it feels for now. Maybe he’ll manage better?

  28. imnotblue Says:

    ^ Sure… and maybe my hair will grow back.

  29. “I think they should just remake LASSIE with Chris Hayes as Timmy.”

    Larry, you just made me do a spit-take and get milk all over my floor!

  30. Lesbian humor. Yay.

  31. Lesbians are funny too.

  32. “Lassie, get help girl! Big Ed’s been kidnapped!”

  33. imnotblue Says:

    Fire extinguishers, would be funnier.

  34. As O’Reilly said the other night, MSNBC has tried at least a dozen different anchors/shows in the 8 PM slot and not one has come close to The Factor’s ratings.

  35. […] in prime time. Hayes simply will not have as much time to talk, or to listen, as he did before. As Inside Cable News argued, the secret formula that made Up so great “is nontransferable.” Will Chris Hayes find a […]

  36. […] about everyone else is looking at. A lot of people weren’t sure Hayes was a good fit for 8pm. I wasn’t sure. I’m still not sure. The only thing I am sure of is it’s all but impossible to judge […]

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