Puck Media’s Dylan Byers is reporting what some have predicted as of late—that if Rachel Maddow departs MSNBC’s 9 p.m. hour next year, Nicolle Wallace is “the most obvious in-house candidate” to replace the network legend in the timeslot. A Morning Joe contributor-turned network host, Wallace has become incredibly popular among the network’s majority-female, liberal audience in recent years, despite her history working for Republicans (Wallace has said she is “no longer a practicing Republican,” and recently called the Republican party “anti-democratic”). Her late-afternoon/early-evening program, Deadline: White House, sometimes draws the second-largest audience of any program on MSNBC, despite not even airing in primetime. Before expanding to two hours, Wallace often had the most-watched cable news show in the 4 p.m. hour.
As we noted in a story on Rachel Maddow’s new agreement with NBCU last month—which includes an option to end her nightly show as early as April 30 of next year and work on other content, such as a weekly show, documentaries or specials—her potential departure from MSNBC’s 9 p.m. hour would leave a massive hole in MSNBC prime. Her show is the most-watched on the network by a large margin, and it’s regularly among the five-most-watched on all of cable news. The Rachel Maddow Show sometimes doubles its 8 p.m. lead-in (All In with Chris Hayes), and the viewership decline after her show ends tends to be more severe than what Fox News and CNN experience in the 10 p.m. hour. To be frank, she’s on a bit of an island these days, ratings-wise.
Byers expounds on this analysis by reporting that NBC executives and producers have told him much of Hayes‘ audience at 8 p.m. and Lawrence O’Donnell‘s audience at 10 p.m. “is made up of Maddow viewers who show up early and stay late,” adding, “Not a single one of those high-level insiders thought either host could sustain their current audiences without her, let alone come close to matching hers.”
According to Byers, Wallace is also well liked by Maddow (Maddow once called Wallace, “my favorite Republican,”) and that she “would have her blessing” to take over 9 p.m.
What about fellow weekday hosts like 6 p.m.’s Ari Melber, 7 p.m.’s Joy Reid, and Hayes? Don’t they have a shot at the 9 p.m. hour if (when) Maddow departs?
Byers writes: “Several high-level MSNBC insiders described Hayes and Melber, white men who have failed to rate well in their current slots, as non-starters.” (Now to be fair, Hayes and Melber routinely average larger total audiences than their CNN counterparts, and Melber has been MSNBC’s most-watched 6 p.m. host in network history)
And regarding Reid’s chances at earning the coveted 9 p.m. hour, post-Maddow, Byers writes:
“Reid is arguably the most prominent Black woman in cable news, but many insiders say privately that it would be a considerable risk to make her the face of primetime because of her history of controversy. She has repeatedly had to apologize for decades-old homophobic and anti-Semitic blog posts, many of which would have tanked the careers of others. Perhaps most infamously, she once tried to shirk responsibility for homophobic posts by claiming that she had been hacked. Several NBC insiders fear that she’s still prone to unforced errors, and said it was only a matter of time before an errant tweet invited more controversy.”