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MSNBC taps Alex Wagner to fill Rachel Maddow void despite network’s history of scrapping her programs

MSNBC has apparently found the answer to its Maddow primetime conundrum.

The Peacock network announced that Alex Wagner will be filling the 9 p.m. ET time slot Tuesdays through Fridays that has been left vacant by the network’s only superstar Rachel Maddow, who rolled back her on-air presence to only Mondays starting in May. 

Wagner, a frequent guest host of “The Rachel Maddow Show,” has a lengthy history in progressive activism and liberal media. She began her career as the “cultural correspondent” with the liberal group the Center for American Progress and was the executive director of the human rights organization Not On Our Watch. She was also a reporter for the Huffington Post, a CBS News host, senior editor of The Atlantic, and the executive producer of Showtime’s “The Circus.”

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Her program is set to launch in August. In the meantime, rotating hosts will continue to fill in on “MSNBC Prime,” the program that has replaced “The Rachel Maddow Show” Tuesdays through Fridays. 

MSNBC, CNN FACE GAPING HOLES IN PRIMETIME AFTER RACHEL MADDOW, CHRIS CUOMO SAGAS LEAVE 9 PM TIME SLOT UNSTABLE

“Alex Wagner in the 9pm hour was a clear choice,” MSNBC President Rashida Jones stated in a press release on Monday. “Her unique perspective—built on more than two decades in journalism—and tenacious reporting in the U.S. and abroad will help our audiences contextualize what matters. I am looking forward to watching Alex thrive in MSNBC’s primetime lineup.”

“I’m honored to be anchoring a key hour of television in such a critical time for American democracy,” Wagner said. “In many ways, the stakes have never been higher, and there’s no better place to explore this moment than MSNBC. I’m thrilled to be coming home.”

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Wagner is certainly returning home, but it’s a home where she wasn’t always previously wanted. 

In 2015, MSNBC canceled her daytime program “Now” after a four-year run. As Mediaite reported at the time, “ratings [were] in the toilet” and Wagner’s show was among those cut as part of a programming reshuffling in order to shift daytime towards straight news. 

Then in 2016, MSNBC scrapped a weekend show Wagner was set to launch after the network previously announced the program.  

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MSNBC FLOPS IN MAY: NETWORK HAD SMALLEST MONTHLY AUDIENCE SINCE 1999 AMONG VIEWERS COVETED BY ADVERTISERS 

Now, MSNBC is hoping Wagner can spice up programming leading up to the 2022 midterm elections as the network boasts that she will be the only Asian-American cable news host. 

However, it remains uncertain if Wagner has what it takes to revive MSNBC’s dwindling viewership and draw an audience remotely comparable to her predecessor giant, Rachel Maddow. 

MSNBC host Rachel Maddow has rolled back her on-air presence to just Mondays.  (Photo by Virginia Sherwood/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)

MSNBC finished May with its smallest monthly audience among the advertiser-coveted demographic of adults age 25-54 since November 1999, and its lowest-rated month among the demo in primetime since May 2004.

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Viewers between ages 25-54, who are considered young enough to change habits and buy new products or services, but old enough to have disposable incomes, are the group that advertisers largely seek to reach with commercials. MSNBC has struggled to attract viewers from this coveted group since President Biden took office, and the progressive network averaged only 70,000 demo viewers during the month of May compared to 229,000 for Fox News Channel.

MSNBC shed 24% of its demo viewers compared to May 2021, while Fox News gained 23% over the same time period. 

RACHEL MADDOW ANNOUNCES SHE’S ROLLING BACK MSNBC SHOW, WILL HOST ONLY MONDAY NIGHTS STARTING IN MAY

MSNBC’s primetime lineup of “All in with Chris Hayes,” “MSNBC Prime,” “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell,” and, once a week, “The Rachel Maddow Show,” managed only 105,000 demo viewers compared to 351,000 for Fox News and 150,000 for CNN. Along the way, MSNBC shed a staggering 32% of its primetime audience from May 2021. 

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Maddow, who makes roughly $30 million per year, announced earlier this year that she would only host “The Rachel Maddow Show” once a week so that she could focus on other projects. The scaled-back version of her show began in May and the Monday program averaged 218,000 demo viewers during the month to finish as the No. 16 cable news show in the category, but no other MSNBC shows landed in the top 20. Maddow is the only MSNBC host who averages 2 million total viewers as the rest of her colleagues trail far behind. 

MSNBC has been struggling to keep its audience throughout the Biden presidency. 

Meanwhile, MSNBC continues its major programming shake-up. In addition to Maddow scaling back her program, Stephanie Ruhle was reshuffled to become host of “The 11th Hour” following Brian Williams’ exit, “Morning Joe” was extended to an unprecedented fourth hour of programming, and Chuck Todd’s weekday program was pulled from the network and moved to NBC News’ streaming network with anchor Chris Jansing taking over his time slot. 

Additionally, former White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki is set to host a program on the Peacock service following the rollout of former Biden administration official Symone Sanders’ own weekend show, which has debuted to dismal ratings. 

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Fox News’ Brian Flood contributed to this report. 

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