Earlier this month, MSNBC started re-airing broadcasts of Bloomberg TV’s With All Due Respect, a show hosted by political insiders John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. The deal was announced in December to much ridicule, from both media critics and MSNBC employees alike. The show airs on MSNBC at 6 PM ET, following Chuck Todd’s MTPDaily, which debuted in September and has since drawn piss-poor ratings, especially among the key 25-54 demographic.
Both Heilemann and Halperin have maintained a strong relationship with MSNBC for some time now. They are regularly featured on Morning Joe, and their reporting has been referenced quite a bit by other programs. This move to re-broadcast a their show from a rival network — one in which they are both paid a million bucks a year — reinforces the notion that MSNBC considers the duo a critical piece of their network rebranding.
Throughout 2015, the Lean Forward channel made a conscious decision to steer its programming away from opinion-based progressive shows and instead focus on breaking news coverage and Beltway insider political analysis. Early in the year, they cut weekly programs hosted by Joy Reid and Ronan Farrow and Karen Finney’s weekend show. Later on, Ed Schultz, Alex Wagner and The Cycle were all given the boot, with only Wagner staying with the network in a different role. (Reid and Farrow have also been retained as reporters/contributors.)
Meanwhile, Meet the Press host Chuck Todd was brought back on a daily basis, with his MTPDaily playing much like his older show The Daily Rundown. Kate Snow was moved over from NBC News to host a two-hour version of MSNBC Live during midday. Al Sharpton saw his 6 PM ET weekly show shuffled to Sunday mornings, with his time slot first filled by an hour-long MSNBC Live before WADR was tossed in there. Eventually, Morning Joe will be expanded to four hours, likely when the election season ramps up later this year.
So, how have these moves worked out? Well, depends on who you ask. If you were to check with NBC News chairman Andy Lack and MSNBC president Phil Griffin, they’d tell you it is going swimmingly. They’d point to year-over-year improvement in 2015’s fourth quarter, all without mentioning that all cable news saw a spike due to the clown show that was Donald Trump. On the other hand, if you were to ask anyone who isn’t an MSNBC exec or lackey, they’d tell you that the network appears to be desperate, confused and out of ideas, while simultaneously thumbing its nose at its core audience.
The fact is that Morning Joe is struggling compared to its competition. Fox News’ Fox & Friends trounces it while CNN’s New Day attracts far more viewers in the 25- 54 demo. However, they will go out of their way to tell you they are THE show all the insiders watch. As for MTPDaily, the program has failed to connect with viewers, regularly getting doubled/tripled up in the demo by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and struggling to even match the numbers of MSNBC’s replacement programming.
And, to no one’s surprise, With All Due Respect, a niche show if there ever was one, is attracting dick early on its run. Considering that the show airs at 5 PM ET (against Todd) on another channel, it makes sense that viewership would be somewhat low. Also, it is yet another round of inside baseball, which viewers have already been subjected to with MTPDaily, not to mention the following hour with the well-established Hardball.
Of course, ratings shouldn’t be the be all end all when it comes to critiquing a news network. In fact, it should mostly be about the quality of its reporting, its ability to inform its audience and what focus it places on news compared to entertainment. At the same end, MSNBC decided that providing its viewership with a progressive alternative to Fox News was hurting it in the ratings, and resolved to completely revamp its approach. And that approach seems to be a failure, at least in the early going.