MSNBC Sends Stephanie Ruhle to Brian Williams Slot As Morning Joe Expands

MSNBC is sending a morning anchor to late night in order to expand its biggest A.M. franchise.

The NBCUniversal-backed cable news outlet intends to shift Stephanie Ruhle from her mid-morning role to its late-night program, “The 11th Hour” as part of a bid to expand one of its key programs, ‘Morning Joe,” according to three people familiar with the plans. The expected maneuvers, which MSNBC would not confirm Wednesday night, were previously reported by Axios.

The moves are driven by a desire to give MSNBC viewers more of the pillars of the schedule, which at present are three hours of “Joe” and two hours of Nicolle Wallace’s late afternoon program, “Deadline: The White House.” MSNBC is working to figure out a way to replace the linchpin of its primetime lineup, “The Rachel Maddow Show,” as its host is moving on to tackle a broader content production agreement with NBCUniversal and is likely to pull back on her weekday duties.

The shifts will give MSNBC viewers four hours of “Morning Joe,” anchored by Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski and Willie Geist, all of whom have been at the program since it launched in 2007, when MSNBC was looking for a way to replace a once-popular morning franchise led by Don Imus. Indeed, under the new schedule, MSNBC will produce as many hours of “Morning Joe” during the week as it does “Today,” its flagship A.M. program on NBC. Executives believe that “Morning Joe” has a proven track record of generating bigger audiences than CNN’s morning programs, and will continue to do so in mid-morning as well. If the 5 a.m. program, “Way Too Early,” which is considered a part of overall “Morning Joe” production, is included, viewers will get five hours of politics, news analysis and discussion each weekday.

Like its two main rivals, Fox News Channel and CNN, MSNBC is grappling with shortfalls in viewership in the wake of the 2020 election. MSNBC saw its viewership of people between 25 and 54 slump 38% in 2021, according to Nielsen figures, compared with declines of 40% for CNN and 35% for Fox News. All three networks are also expected to lose subscribers in 2022, according to projections by Kagan, a market-research unit that is part of S&P Global Intelligence, as more consumers elect to stop watching linear television and move instead to streaming video on demand.

But there is still new money to fight over. Like its two rivals, MSNBC is expected to take in more advertising than it did last year, potentially as viewers prepare for this year’s midterm elections. According to Kagan, MSNBC’s ad revenue in 2022 is expected to rise to $585.7 million, compared with $573.9 million in 2021.

MSBNC prepares to expand “Joe” as concern has grown about opinion programming taking time away from news at all the cable networks. At Fox News, executives have added an opinion shows at 7 p.m., and bumped Shannon Bream’s late-night news show to make room for Greg Gutfeld’s late-night program, “Gutfeld.” MSNBC has added several hours of opinion programming to weekend nights, has added repeats of two of its opinion shows from Peacock to early weekend mornings, and recently announced the hire of Symone Sanders, a former press representative for Vice President Kamala Harris.

The new schedule will lend more importance to Scarborough and Brzezinski, two anchors who have a strong say in many production aspects of their program. The pair regularly anchor the show from Florida, rather than in New York — a move that, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, seems prescient, but one that has also at times given MSNBC executives cause for concern. The pair were believed to be in the last year of their current contract.

The move is likely to add to Ruhle’s presence at the network as well. The straight-talking anchor, who signed a new deal with NBCUniversal in 2020 that made her NBC News’ senior business correspondent, has seen her profile grow since she co-hosted an MSNBC show with Ali Velshi that often featured the duo holding newsmakers to account. Ruhle was one of the first anchors to fill in on “11th Hour” after Williams departed the show just before the end of the year.

 

More to come….

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