Is Chris Matthews About to Be Replaced at MSNBC?

While you can’t believe everything you read in the New York Post, a Page Six report on a possible shake-up in the MSNBC nightly lineup had a convincing premise.

It began with the latest news about Brian Williams and his ratings for The 11th Hour, which we reported on earlier this week. At the close of February, Williams and his team finished a three-month run on top of the ratings at 11 p.m. in both total viewers and the key 25-54 demographic.

According to Page Six, that has insiders at MSNBC saying the network is mulling a promotion for Williams in the form of a move to an earlier time-slot. Chris Matthews’s Hardball (in the 7 p.m. hour) could be the spot where Williams lands.

Added to reports of the network tiring of Matthews — and Hardball’s lackluster ratings — the idea the longstanding host is on his way out doesn’t sound so far-fetched.

‘Hardball’s’ 9-month losing streak among younger viewers

Brian Williams, Rachel Maddow, and Chris Matthews appear during MSNBC live election coverage in 2016. | Heidi Gutman/MSNBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

While total viewers would seem to be the goal of a TV show, in the cable-news world the key demographic is 25-54 year-olds. In that fight, Matthews has been behind both The Story with Martha McCallum on Fox News and CNN’s Erin Burnett Out Front.

Burnett’s show celebrated nine months straight of topping Hardball in the demo earlier this week. Overall, she’s beaten Matthews in that segment for 10 months of the past year. (Matthews has the edge in total viewers.)

For his part, Williams has shown a penchant for beating both Fox and CNN in this age-group at 11. In February, The 11th Hour (327,000 viewers) topped Don Lemon’s second hour on CNN (269,000) and Shannon Bream on Fox News (289,000) by convincing margins among viewers below 55.

While these time-slots are very different, there’s a real possibility that watching Matthews talk over his guests (many of whom are female) on a nightly basis doesn’t have that much appeal to young viewers in 2019.

A reported lack of enthusiasm in Matthews’s own building

Chris Matthews waits on set during MSNBC’s broadcast of the Presidential Primary election on Tuesday, March 8, 2016 in Detroit. | Paul Warner/Getty Images

Page Six’s sources also said that MSNBC execs weren’t happy with Hardball, prompting the speculation about moving him into the slot. Frankly, if attracting younger viewers is the goal, we can’t see how long the network can run with Matthews.

(MSNBC did not respond to questions about the story or about the Hardball host’s general contract status.)

Constant references to Tip O’Neill and the Kennedys don’t have the same resonance with viewers below a certain age. As for Matthews cutting off guests and having choppy discussions every night … that’s probably lost whatever luster it had as well.

Matthews has acknowledged this on some levels. Prior to the midterm election, he told the hosts of Morning Joe that prominent members of the Democratic Party won’t listen to him because he’s “yesterday.”

That may be true, and if younger viewers are the priority then maybe Williams is the network’s answer at 7 (at least in the short term).

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