MSNBC’s Alex Wagner breaking the old mold? Not exactly

Jeff Poor Media Reporter
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According to Politico media blogger Dylan Byers, MSNBC’s “NOW w/Alex Wagner” is “beginning to wield a subtle but notable influence on the political discussion,” though relatively few watch the noon program.

On Saturday, Politico published a 2,200-word item by Byers that heaped praise on the eight-month old program and its host, Wagner, formerly of Politics Daily and Huffington Post fame.

“Wagner’s hour has a youthful energy not offered anywhere else in the network’s lineup, to say nothing of CNN and FOX News,” Byers wrote. “When she trips over a word, she mocks herself. When she introduces guests, she may spontaneously apply a nickname. Discovering the head from a large kangaroo costume backstage, she promptly put it on and posted it to Twitter.”

Although that seems to excite Byers, it hasn’t done much to lure viewers away from CNN or Fox News. Nielsen reported that earlier this week, “NOW w/Alex Wagner” delivered its lowest-rated audience since its launch for persons aged two or higher, with 201,000. And among viewers aged 18-49 — a demographic advertisers focus on — the show had barely 36,000 viewers.

In a Sunday post reacting to Byer’s story, Newsbusters’ Tim Graham observed that this is a trend that has been in the works.

“When you’re back in 3rd place, sell yourself as a Twitter personality,” Graham wrote. “The story’s headline was ‘MSNBC’s Alex Wagner breaks the old mold.’ Over the last nine months, MSNBC has averaged 340,000 total viewers in the noon hour. That’s compared to 469,000 for the noon segment of ‘CNN Newsroom’ with Suzanne Malveaux, and 956,000 for ‘Happening Now’ on Fox News with Jon Scott and Jenna Lee.”

And although Byers admits as much, Politico reporters have been regular panelists on her program, including Glenn Thrush and New York-based correspondents Maggie Haberman and Ben White, which might explain Byers’ glowing account of the show.

But the formula for Wagner’s show seems to be one preferred by MSNBC President Phil Griffin. The show takes after the network’s three-hour, weekday morning program, “Morning Joe,” which was the brainchild of former Republican Florida Rep. Joe Scarborough.

“Morning Joe” was created in 2007 to fill the void left by Don Imus’ simulcasted radio show, which was canceled after Imus’ controversial remarks about the 2007 NCAA women’s basketball tournament runner-up, Rutgers University women’s basketball team.

Since Scarborough’s creation had seen some success in that competitive morning news time slot — coming in second among cable news programs — MSNBC has seemingly attempted to replicate that success with similarly structured weekend morning programs. One is hosted by The Nation magazine’s Chris Hayes and the other by Tulane University political science professor Melissa Harris-Perry.

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