MSNBC host Chris Hayes’ primetime show “All In with Chris Hayes” is scheduled to be canceled in the liberal network’s 8 p.m. timeslot as part of a roster shakeup that recently snared daytime hosts Ronan Farrow and Joy Reid.
Hayes’ ratings failures in primetime speak to the failure of “left-wing television,” as MSNBC insiders called it (Hayes tried to own the term of Twitter). But more broadly, it highlights a shift in broadcasting — pushed for by MSNBC’s parent company Comcast and other corporations — that betrays central tenets of responsible television.
Hayes failed with primetime American viewers because he is a fancy lad. I don’t use the term lightly. It originated in the classic 1990s comedy “Cabin Boy” starring Chris Elliott – a personal favorite of former Daily Caller editor Tim Cavanaugh. In the scene, Elliott’s rich boy character is mocked by a street peddler played, fittingly, by legendary television talk show host David Letterman.
Hayes provided a lot of unintentional laughs on his primetime venture, and frankly we appreciated it. There was the time Ferguson protesters threw rocks at him. Shielded from the violence by a black fellow MSNBC reporter, Hayes still tried to curry favor with the rock-throwers.
The son of two New York City government employees, Hayes was educated at elite Hunter College High School and Brown University, where he studied philosophy. After a brief stint as one of the stars of the Bush-era left-wing blogging movement, he showed up, sneakers polished, for his first big-time job on MSNBC in 2011 and moved to primetime almost exactly 2 years ago.
He was earnest enough on television but more importantly he fit into MSNBC’s corporate mold. The brother of a top Obama campaign operative, Hayes joined an MSNBC cast that now includes Alex Wagner, who’s married to the White House chef, and Abby Huntsman, daughter of former Obama ambassador/liberal Republican John Huntsman.
Letterman, big screen arbiter of fancy lads, once called his first TV show a high-rent community college broadcasting class. Hayes’ show, on the other hand, seemed like a prep-school AV club with community college production values. At one point, it was reported that only 71,000 viewers in the middle-aged demo were watching Hayes at 8 o’clock on American television (Hayes called his “All In” viewers “Inners” for marketing purposes. How fitting).
How did MSNBC even sell that to sponsors? What unlucky progressive apparatchik had to go visit the Southwest regional vice president of sales at Randy’s Office Furniture and sell MSNBC’s programming bloc?
Well Darren, I know only 71,000 viewers are watching in the time slot opposite Bill O’Reilly. But let me tell ya, this kid Chris…Yeah, yeah, the guy with the glasses. Kids are going to love this guy. You should see him on Twitter. He’s going to completely upend the patriarchy…You know, the patriarchy…Hey listen Darren, don’t make up your mind until you hear me out. We’ve also got Mia Farrow’s son!
If you want to know why Hayes failed on primetime, look no further than his interview with a guy from the Satanic church, Lucien Greaves, about some controversy involving a courthouse statue in Arkansas.
Typically, people like Satanists have been commonplace on popular television, on shows like Donahue or Ricki Lake. But here’s the thing — and it’s the reason that hosts like Donahue and Ricki Lake were actually much better TV hosts than Chris Hayes. Hosts typically keep those kinds of guests at arm’s length. They kind of laugh at them, or make a little joke out of the segment, or at the very least they hold them up to scrutiny on behalf of the normal person, who TV hosts typically are supposed to represent.
But Hayes didn’t. On the issue of the statue, Lucien Greaves and Chris Hayes were on the same side. So Hayes presented him as a champion, an underdog, a crusader, the natural favorite, with no sense whatsoever for the humor or the irony of the fact that this weird pale guy named “Lucien Greaves” is on television. People who tuned in just kind of looked at the whole tableau and thought, Wait, so the host is on Lucien Greaves’ side? The host and Lucien Greaves are, like, working together on some issue?
Television hosts are supposed to be cultural goalies, safeguards making sure that normal person is represented in the conversation when some freak comes on the air. People don’t like it when the host stops being a relatable medium. It doesn’t work. It comes across dishonest.
Tom Snyder, even as late as 1975, was using his television platform to critically question John Lennon on the influence of rock music on American youth, forcing Lennon to give some of his most intellectual answers in his defense.
Chris Hayes could not be trusted. He was on the side of Lucien Greaves. He was defending people who were throwing rocks at him live on the air. He wasn’t clued into how regular people think, how they would react to situations. He failed to tap into reality. Maybe media corporations and powerful politicians now favor Chris Hayes’ politics. But America didn’t trust him with a microphone. It’s becoming easier for dishonest people and nepotists to get one of those things. But, as Hayes’ failure proves, it’s actually still hard for them to earn it.
As said David Letterman, soon to be replaced by progressive actor Stephen Colbert, on the village corner in Cabin Boy, “You’re one of those little, uh, fancy lads, aren’t ya?”