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.