Late Night Fight: MSNBC Goes Live and Comedy Central Dumps The Nightly Show

By Mark Joyella 

Last Thursday at 10:59 p.m. ET, MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell got to do something he hasn’t done much in his tenure at the network: toss to another live host beginning the 11 p.m. hour. “Chris Hayes is up next,” O’Donnell said. “You’re doing another live night.”

“I’m back at it again,” Hayes said, “once again, I’m still Chris Hayes, coming to you live. We just did it a couple of hours ago.” The night before, Hayes had joked, “we are live. Why? I don’t know, but we are here.”

CNN has been “here” regularly through the campaign season, with Don Lemon anchoring a live edition of CNN Tonight in the 11 p.m. ET hour, and returning strong ratings. Two nights last week, CNN beat Fox News (which re-airs the 8 p.m. edition of The O’Reilly Factor) among viewers 25-54.

While Hayes may joke about staying up late, MSNBC executives may see opportunity in the crowded field at 11 p.m. The return to news at the network has begun seeing results, with MSNBC repeatedly topping CNN in prime since the Republican and Democratic conventions–and beating CNN among total viewers at 11 p.m. ET every night last week.

On Thursday night, for example, MSNBC beat CNN in the demo at 8 p.m., 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., but fell to third place at 11 (though the live edition of All In did finish in second place–ahead of CNN–among total viewers). Live shows–and the ability to jump on breaking news–may mean more late nights for MSNBC’s prime hosts.

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 1.27.00 PMHayes had two late nights last week, as did Chris Matthews, who anchored two “special, live editions” of Hardball at 11 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday night.

MSNBC’s decision to experiment with live shows in the 11 p.m. hour comes as Comedy Central announced Monday the cancellation of The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore. The show, which aired at 11:30 p.m. after The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, was a critical success, but struggled to compete in a crowded field. Wilmore averaged a total audience of 580,000 viewers–about 115,000 fewer viewers than MSNBC’s live All In had last Thursday night.

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