Interesting news for folks who watch cable TV news ratings.
Last Friday, The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC had more young viewers in the 25-54 age group than Fox News did for any program airing between 4 PM-11 PM.
As reported by Jason Easley of PoliticsUSA, Maddow's 315,000 Friday night viewers in that prized demographic "was bigger that both The O’Reilly Factor (301,000) and The Kelly File (280,000) on Fox News. Maddow’s show had the largest 25-54 audience of any of the programs on MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News."
Fox News still won the night in overall viewers, though as Easley points out, MSNBC is not on basic cable and appears in fewer homes, yet Maddow "came within 500,000 total viewers of beating Fox News in her 9 PM timeslot." Left out of that analysis, importantly, is that if anyone wants to watch conservative news, they have Fox News to watch. But if anyone wants to watch anything other than far-right coverage, the market is divided between MSNBC and CNN -- as well as the network news shows.
By the way, continuing with MSNBC, I've wanted to comment on a recent story concerning the news channel, but never got around to it. This seems as reasonable a jumping-off point as any.
A month or so back, MSNBC seemed to be easing host Melissa Harris-Perry from her show's timeslot. She was offended by her treatment and became very public about being "silenced" (as she put it), as well as having her show pre-empted for two consecutive weekends. Eventually, she and MSNBC parted ways. She turned down a severance package because it contained what was basically a non-disparagement clause.
My first reaction was -- pre-empted for two whole weekends in a row? Horrors. Welcome to TV. Pre-empted during an especially-volatile presidential primary campaign for specific, other coverage? Horrors. Welcome to TV. Not treated well by a network? Horrors. Welcome to TV.
(By way of comparison, another Melissa -- McCarthy -- had starred on CBS for six years in the successful sitcom, Mike and Molly. She is probably the #1 movie comedy actress today, as well. And when CBS cancelled the series a couple months ago, despite still-okay ratings, no one at the network even officially notified her. The show just wasn't put on the new schedule, and CBS later sent out a Tweet. You'd think that a network would want to keep on great terms with someone they might really want to be in business with again, as either a star or series creator. But networks are networks, and they just dumped it. Emmy-winner McCarthy put out her own Tweet about how "shocked and heartbroken" she was, and that "I would have shot this show for 50 more years. I'll miss my 2nd family." But networks are networks. That's not a defense of them. Just an obvious observation.)
To be clear, that's no reason for Melissa Harris-Perry not to be upset and even speak out. Networks deserve being criticized when they act poorly. (If that's the case here.) But she seemed so shocked by it all, and appeared to take it as a personal affront. In fact, however, MSNBC said there were no plans to cancel her show or even strip Harris-Perry of editorial control. The show just got pre-empted twice for bigger news. It happens. Maybe they planned to scale it back, eventually, too -- a network doesn't tend to pre-empt shows twice that are hugely popular, so I suspect the ratings haven't been strong, but that's just a guess.
There's one thing I do have a more direct reaction to, though. And that's a personal reaction to this all. I think Melissa Harris-Perry is a very bright, accomplished, well-spoken person. When she's appeared on MSNBC as a guest analyst, I've always enjoyed watching her and hearing her insight. But -- as a host? I found her unwatchable. Rather than speaking off the cuff, how she did as a guest analyst and effectively so, when appearing as the host of her own program and tied to a script that was well-prepared for book publication but not the spoken word (which I assume she herself wrote or at least edited), she came across precisely as she is -- a bright college professor. Her show always struck me as if I was in class, and not one of those where the professor tries to involve her students by sparking their interest, but instead gives a lecture, writing everything out first and reading her speech. All that was missing were footnotes and, at the end, "Class dismissed." I gave up on the stilted show early on, I couldn't make it through. Occasionally, I'd check it out, but after about 40 seconds I'd have to switch away, concerned that I hadn't been taking notes for the mid-term.
Rachel Maddow is scholarly herself and has a PhD, and she can get pedantic at times, but does so with near-unbridled enthusiasm which she seems to want to bring to her viewers, having grasped the concept of communication. Prof. Harris-Perry seems want to deliver an editorial with every word. It's not the way she ever was when a guest analyst, which was to me the great shame.
I understand completely why Melissa Harris-Perry was upset that her show had been pre-empted two consecutive weeks. And I understand if she felt she was being marginalized, if in fact she was (which is open to debate). But the TV world is abrupt, and you have to deliver or they move on. And more to the point, if the show was being cut back -- which, again, may not have been the case -- it was probably because it wasn't good-enough television and had low viewers.
So, be upset if you're Melissa Harris-Perry. But be upset for the right reason, that you don't like losing your show, same as anyone would be upset. Not because you were "silenced" and ill-treated and wronged. But, y'know, I'll even step back and acknowledge in full honesty that I don't know what was going on behind the scenes. For all I know, MSNBC handled things poorly. Maybe not, and my guess is not, but I don't know, so for the sake of argument, I'll accept that. I still personally found the show unwatchable. So, I'm not surprised by its pre-emptions or now its absence, nor am troubled by it.
I wish that Melissa Harris-Perry had not been so troubled and whiny about it all, though -- not because it seemed so petty, but because I really like her as a guest analyst and would have loved to continue seeing her in that capacity on MSNBC, something I now am guessing has as much chance as the proverbial snow ball in hell.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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