Was it a glitch or was it a sign of things to come?
On Tuesday, Alex Wagner, the pundit who’s replacing Rachel Maddow in the 9 p.m. time slot on MSNBC Tuesday to Friday, helmed her first show. It was a busy day, obviously, with the ongoing disputes over the FBI’s raid on former President Donald Trump’s home last week and Rep. Liz Cheney’s looming primary defeat in Wyoming, inter alia.
At nine sharp, Chris Hayes, host of the 8 p.m. program “All in with Chris Hayes,” threw it to Wagner, who said she was “honored to share the stage with” him.
“Thank you for everything,” she said.
“All right,” Hayes said with a smile. “I’m going to go watch you now.”
Let’s just say he didn’t witness broadcasting greatness in action.
“Tonight, the FBI warrant used to search Mar-a-Lago is unsealed. The three potential crimes laid out in that document. We’ll dive into what it means and what could happen,” Wagner said.
Then came a long, awkward pause, while images clearly tied to the Wyoming GOP primary — not the Mar-a-Lago raid — appeared on the screen with her.
She eventually found the words: “… with one of the Wall Street Journal reporters who was first to report on the contents of that warrant.”
OK, that happens. But then came another pause.
“Then we’ll–” Another pause. Then, Wagner threw up her hands and mouthed something toward the camera, with all the professionalism of a high school sophomore in a media communications class.
“Then we’ll talk with — we — we’re going to go right — we’re actually going to go right to the top story tonight.”
That top story was the “steepest of climbs” faced by Rep. Cheney to hold on to her seat; polls in Wyoming had just closed, although it didn’t take long to realize Cheney wasn’t going to make that climb. But I digress.
According to the Washington Examiner, Wagner acknowledged the issues before the end of the episode, calling it “a case of the technical gremlins.”
“We hope the rest of the night will be smooth sailing, America, but this is live TV, and it has its charms,” she said.
Maybe. But live TV hasn’t been particularly charmed for Wagner in the past, at least at MSNBC. As Fox News noted when the choice was announced in June, Wagner has already had one show on the network canceled after a four-year run and another shelved before it even aired an episode.
In 2015, Wagner’s program “Now” was shut down as part of a “significant” shakeup in MSNBC’s lineup, Mediaite reported at the time, explaining that the network’s ratings “are in the toilet.”
In 2016, according to Fox, MSNBC announced Wagner would be hosting a weekend show, but then never bothered airing it.
Then again, if Wagner’s latest outing with MSNBC draws lousy ratings, she’ll hardly be alone on the network. May was the worst ratings month MSNBC has had in the 25-54 demographic since 1999, according to a Fox report June 6. However, as the article noted, this had a lot to do with “Rachel Maddow’s reduced schedule.”
Despite having disappeared into conspiracy theory la-la land years ago, Maddow has remained the network’s top draw — but she’s scaled back to doing only Monday nights at 9 p.m. now, leaving Wagner to fill the rest of the week.
For conservative viewers — even just for sane Americans — Maddow’s show was bad enough. But Wagner is worse, and it’s not just Tuesday night’s snafu that proves it.
Wagner may have been a frequent guest on Maddow’s program, but she has more of a background in progressive activism than she does in television:
“She began her career as the ‘cultural correspondent’ with the liberal group the Center for American Progress and was the executive director of the human rights organization Not On Our Watch,” Fox reported at the June announcement. “She was also a reporter for the Huffington Post, a CBS News host, senior editor of The Atlantic, and the executive producer of Showtime’s ‘The Circus.'”
A career in activism, however, doesn’t mean you can read a teleprompter. Just ask Al Sharpton, a man who’s been on MSNBC for over a decade and whose performance in front of the camera is still barely distinguishable from Kenan Thompson’s impression of him on “Saturday Night Live.”
All of that likely means even more leftist bias on a network that’s already made that its hallmark.
Granted, Tuesday was just Wagner’s first show filling Maddow’s shoes, and perhaps she and her crew will pick up those live-TV “charms.” If not, though, it’ll soon be time to start taking bets on who plays her part on “SNL.” My money’s on Cecily Strong.
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