MSNBC's current pundit lineup is a "death wish," one NBC source told Politico‘s Dylan Byers in a story out Thursday morning, and the network is heading for a huge shakeup toward more straight news and less liberal bombast as its ratings continue to suffer.
Its primetime ratings are down 24 percent overall and 42 percent in the coveted 25-54 demographic year-to-date, and its daytime ratings are down 21 and 41 percent respectively.
Ratings flops like All In With Chris Hayes at 8 p.m. ET and struggling far-left anchors Al Sharpton and Ed Schultz are in danger of being axed or banished to weekend programming, Byers wrote, following up on similar reporting last month in The Daily Beast. Tuesday night, Hayes got a scant 72,000 viewers in the 25-54 demo, compared to 112,000 for CNN's Anderson Cooper and 524,000 for Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly. Ed Schultz (47,000 at 5 p.m.) and Sharpton (62,000 at 6 p.m.) also got scorched in the key demo by CNN (128,000 and 144,000) and perennial ratings champ Fox (319,000 and 387,000).
"High-level sources" at NBCUniversal said that, with the exceptions of Morning Joe and The Rachel Maddow Show, every program risks cancellation or being moved. Daytime shows The Reid Report and Ronan Farrow Daily were both cancelled in February:
"The plan is to re-imagine what the channel is," one high-level NBCUniversal insider with knowledge of the network’s plans said, "because the current lineup is a death wish."
Byers referred to Schultz as "unpalatable" and teleprompter champion Sharpton as a "walking conflict of interest" due to his civil rights activism. But their and others' greatest crime is being boring:
In fact, MSNBC’s problems run deeper than the news-opinion divide, several industry insiders said. The network’s programming has grown stale, they say, while its principal rival, CNN, has been ascendant. Much of the younger talent consists of entertainers with no reportorial chops who can be hard to take seriously. Veteran hosts seem to have grown tired of trumpeting liberal outrage night after night, these critics say, and have become caricatures of themselves. The calculus for Griffin and Lack, then, is not just about balancing news and ideology. It’s about creating compelling programming.
"MSNBC got boring," one former NBCUniversal executive said. "You’ll hear a lot of people talking about it being too far left, too political—all that matters is that it’s entertaining."
MSNBC underwent a major shift in its ideology around 2006, when Keith Olbermann gained recognition for his fierce anti-Bush invective and, in Byers' words, the network began to "rebrand itself as the liberal answer to Fox News." That led to giving Maddow, a talent discovered by current Fox News host Tucker Carlson, getting her own show in 2008. That year, MSNBC did extremely well in the ratings with its cheerleading of Barack Obama's successful campaign for the White House.
But those days are long past, with sources speculating to Politico that liberal disenchantment over Obama and the fatigue of Hillary Clinton's coronation as Democratic nominee not helping matters.
Now, the entire lineup from 3 p.m. ET on is essentially nothing but liberal punditry–but the numbers aren't there anymore. For instance, Alex Wagner, host at 4 p.m. after the ugly departure of Martin Bashir late in 2013, has seen her ratings crash 54 percent over the past year.