MSNBC’s Jen Psaki primetime gamble has experts questioning liberal network’s strategy, Chris Hayes’ future
MSNBC made headlines last week with its announcement that its newest host, former Biden White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, is already getting promoted by expanding her role beyond Sunday afternoons and into primetime on Mondays.
Psaki, who officially joined the network in May 2022 after leaving the Biden administration, will be taking over MSNBC’s 8 p.m. ET time slot on Monday nights later this month, replacing “All In with Chris Hayes” which will now only air Tuesday through Friday. MSNBC has noted that Hayes’ show has used rotating hosts on Monday nights, including Psaki, over the past year while he works on other projects.
The move follows MSNBC’s surprising programming decision last year to have its biggest star, Rachel Maddow, only host on Mondays and giving her 9 p.m. ET time slot to Alex Wagner for the remainder of the week. Maddow re-upped with the network in 2021 for a reported $30 million annual deal.
Fox News contributor Joe Concha told Fox News Digital that for MSNBC to alter only its primetime lineup on Monday is “profoundly stupid,” saying either Psaki should be in primetime every weeknight or none at all.
“Viewers want consistency,” Concha said. “And for MSNBC to offer these half-baked lineups doesn’t allow for that.”
DePauw University journalism professor Jeffrey McCall saw the move as “unusual” but suggested to Fox News Digital that MSNBC is willing to take the gamble and create a “blockbuster Monday” to draw Democratic viewers to the network with the help of “two high-profile progressive women” like Psaki and Maddow, adding that Psaki will likely get a ratings boost for being in the same lineup as the popular TV liberal.
“We’re heading into primetime election season, and we’re heading into the Trump trials and all that stuff is going to be red meat for the progressives who watch MSNBC,” McCall said. “And [they’ll] be happy to see back-to-back high personality women beating up on Trump, for example, and promoting Democratic causes.”
During Psaki’s final months as press secretary, it was reported that MSNBC had engaged in a bidding war against CNN, where Psaki was previously a commentator in the lead-up to the 2020 election. Following weeks of rumors about her future plans, MSNBC announced Psaki would join the network as a political analyst and a host on the Peacock streaming service. Clearly, MSNBC’s plans for Psaki have shifted in favor of a traditional cable news program.
“Inside with Jen Psaki,” which launched in March of this year, quickly became MSNBC’s highest-rated Sunday program, averaging roughly 840,000 viewers in recent months. But her takeover on Monday could spell trouble for Hayes.
“Chris Hayes should be nervous,” NewsBusters managing editor Curtis Houck told Fox News Digital. “MSNBC can insist Chris Hayes remains a valuable part of the network and will be going forward, but if that’s the case, why then was Jen Psaki given a night at his expense?”
Concha offered a similar sentiment, saying Hayes as an MSNBC veteran should be “insulted” that management is pulling one of his nights and giving it to someone who joined the network’s programming “a few months ago.”
Hayes has hosted “All In” since 2013 and, while never a ratings dynamo, has been one of the faces of its left-leaning political coverage.
Hayes has seen a drop in his viewership, losing nearly a tenth of total viewers since 2021, averaging 1.4 million viewers and shedding over a quarter of viewers in the coveted 25-54 age demographic which advertisers prioritize.
McCall pointed out that while Hayes has his own fan base as a longtime MSNBC fixture, Psaki is a “darling of the Democratic Party” for her years serving in both the Obama and Biden administrations.
If Psaki draws a larger audience, it could create a conundrum for the network involving Hayes.
“Chris Hayes is a loyal soldier of the MSNBC approach to journalism. He takes on all the right issues. He’s got all the right positions. But in reality, his ratings have never really taken off,” McCall said. “I would think he probably can’t help but look at this as maybe a threat coming over the horizon, and I would think he’s probably looking over his shoulder because if Psaki’s ratings really take off at that time slot, 8:00, I can’t imagine MSNBC wouldn’t be thinking about, ‘OK, where do we reposition Chris and maybe leave Jen in this slot?’”
“If she’s doing well, the evidence is going to be right there. And it’s all about numbers… If Jen Psaki gets them an extra half a million viewers per night, those numbers are going to talk rather than loyalty,” he added.
MSNBC didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
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