Yesterday, MSNBC announced the cancellation of Ronan Farrow Daily and The Reid Report, both of which had consistently posted low ratings in their respective daytime slots. The news marked yet another low point in the liberal cable channel’s failed attempts to raise ratings. According to The Daily Beast, it was also president Phil Griffin’s first move in a longer campaign to dampen the channel’s liberal ideology. Is MSNBC really trying to shed its progressive image?
According to knowledgeable sources at the Comcast-owned cable network, Thursday's moves were only the opening salvo in a wider programming shakeup. In the relatively near term, two well-placed sources predicted to The Daily Beast, Chris Hayes will be relieved of his weak-performing 8 p.m. show All In, to be replaced by the current 9 p.m. host of The Rachel Maddow Show, while a talent search is underway to fill the prime-time slot to be vacated by Maddow.
In the longer term, these sources said, the Rev. Al Sharpton—a larger-than-life personality who attracts a 35 percent African-American audience but continues, after 3½ years of nightly practice, to wrestle with his Teleprompter—could eventually be moved from his weeknight 6 p.m. slot to a weekend time period, as MNSBC President Phil Griffin attempts to reverse significant viewership slides by accentuating straight news over left-leaning opinion.
One source tells Grove: “Going left was a brilliant strategy while it lasted and made hundreds of millions of dollars for Comcast [MSNBC’s corporate parent] , but now it doesn’t work anymore ...The goal is to move away from left-wing TV.”
Grove’s prediction that Hayes will be out sooner rather than later may be true, but if so it is certainly news to his colleague Rachel Maddow: We are reliably told that she hasn’t been involved in any discussions about taking over Hayes’ 8 p.m. timeslot. The notion that Sharpton might move to a weekend slot likewise comes “way out of left field,” according to a well-placed MSNBC insider.
The situation inside MSNBC and its sister network NBC News is best described as chaotic, as the two institutions lurch between cratering ratings, a Today show in disarray, and the ritual humiliation of Brian Williams. “It’s every man for himself in the executive suite here,” our source said, adding that MSNBC.com editor Richard Wolffe is said to covet Griffin’s job and has been maneuvering to hasten his exit. It may have been Wolffe whispering in Grove’s ear about the alleged coming shake-up, in the hopes of generating a story highlighting Griffin’s missteps.
Those missteps, though, can’t be chalked up to a few underperforming figureheads. The ratings decline at MSNBC is intense and uniform across the entire network, including shows that aren’t attracting much attention right now. Every segment of MSNBC’s broadcast day—from the fratty banter of Morning Joe to the shouty Ed Schultz to the veteran Andrea Mitchell—is in ratings freefall.
And if the channel is indeed laying plans to abandon its left-wing ideology, we’re told that the directive is much more likely coming from Comcast executives, not Griffin—who was, after all, a chief architect of the “Lean Forward” marketing campaign. MSNBC’s parent company has never been particularly attached to the network’s political slant anyway, and so its top leaders may see the channel’s struggle with ratings not as a lost cause but as an opportunity to radically rebrand it.
None of this is to say that MSNBC is in any danger of going under, or that it’s hemorrhaging money. It’s actually one of Comcast’s more consistent profit centers. While it hasn’t released its 2014 figures, the most recent numbers we heard—approximately $220 million profit on $400 million in revenue last year—are hardly foreboding.