Both CNN and MSNBC are closing 2022 in unsettled or struggling states at 9 p.m. ET, historically seen as the tentpole for the entire primetime lineup.
The hour is historically prime real estate for any network, as some of the most iconic programs of all time occupied the time slot, like “Seinfeld” and “Cheers.” In cable news, it’s no different.
But CNN has had a gaping hole at 9 p.m. for over a year now, as its top-rated anchor Chris Cuomo was fired during the final weeks of 2021 over his extensive involvement in aiding his brother Andrew Cuomo during his sexual harassment scandal. As a result, “Cuomo Prime Time” was replaced with, among other hosts, various specials, more Anderson Cooper, additional Don Lemon, a short-lived Jim Acosta experiment, and even Jake Tapper for a short stint ahead of the midterms.
“Cuomo Prime Time” averaged 1.3 million viewers in 2021, but his various replacements have only managed 735,000 in 2022 for a staggering 45% year-to-year drop off. CNN also shed 44% of its viewers among the demographic of adults age 25-54, which is most-coveted by advertisers.
CNN averaged 183,000 demo viewers at 9 p.m. ET in 2022 compared to 327,000 in 2021 and the network is on pace to wrap up 2022 with its lowest-rated year of all time in the critical category.
Over on MSNBC, Maddow, the network’s biggest star, decided earlier this year to dial back her workload and only host the 9 p.m. hour on Mondays, leaving Alex Wagner to take the wheel Tuesday through Friday beginning in August after an array of substitutes filled the spot for much of the year.
MSNBC’s combo of Maddow and Wagner averaged nearly 1.8 million viewers in 2022, more than doubling CNN’s viewership. However, 18% of viewers Maddow drew when she hosted on a daily basis vanished when Wagner took over.
When it comes to the critical demographic, MSNBC’s 9 p.m. ET hour barely outdrew beleaguered CNN, managing only 195,000 viewers. The key demo is also a black mark for Wagner, as Maddow in weeks she hosted full-time topped Wagner by 35% in 2022.
Since “Alex Wagner Tonight” launched on Aug. 16, it has been outdrawn by 15 different Fox News programs among total viewers and 20 among the key demo despite its cozy time slot. Wagner is also trailing MSNBC colleagues Chris Hayes, Lawrence O’Donnell and Joy Reid when it comes to demo viewers.
Fox News’ “Hannity,” which airs at 9 p.m. ET, averaged 2.8 million viewers to crush CNN by 282% and thump MSNBC by 59%. Among the demo, Hannity averaged 414,000 to dominate CNN by 126% and MSNBC by 112%.
As the calendar turns to 2023, it appears MSNBC will for the time being stick with Maddow on Mondays and Wagner the remainder of the week. One network insider said higher-ups weren’t overly concerned with day-to-day ratings, pointing to the money the network brings to NBCUniversal from cable subscription fees.
“What individual shows do doesn’t hurt their bottom line much,” they said.
CNN, however, was thought to be looking to name a permanent 9 p.m. host before 2022 concluded but that no longer appears likely. One insider said legal analyst Laura Coates, who has made guest primetime hosting appearances in 2022, has in-house support for the hour.
Tapper, who’s hosted “The Lead” at CNN since 2013 and is its chief Washington correspondent, pushed back firmly on previous reports that he was doing a “try-out” of sorts during his stint leading up to the midterms; the New York Times’ James Stewart referred to it Sunday as an “experiment” in his piece interviewing CEO Chris Licht, but Tapper said that continues to be a mischaracterization.
“None of this is complicated,” he told Fox News Digital in a text. “I didn’t want to do 9 because I have kids… Chris asked me to do it through midterms. I said OK. It was announced as temporary. No one was expecting ratings to change in a month.”
CNN and MSNBC spokespersons didn’t return requests for comment.
Fox News’ Joseph A. Wulfsohn contributed to this report.