MSNBC announced on Monday that journalist and commentator Alex Wagner will take over the bulk of Rachel Maddow’s prime-time perch, after the network’s biggest star significantly scaled back her TV time this spring.
Wagner is not a new face for MSNBC viewers. She hosted a show on the network between 2011 and 2015, and rejoined it earlier this year as a senior political analyst and guest anchor. “I’m honored to be anchoring a key hour of television in such a critical time for American democracy,” she said in a statement Monday.
She may be best known for her role as co-host and executive producer of the Showtime documentary series “The Circus,” which focuses on politics. She also worked as a co-host of the CBS News program “CBS This Morning Saturday,” and as a correspondent for the network.
Wagner will have big shoes to fill. Maddow has long been MSNBC’s biggest ratings magnet at a time when the network, like competitor CNN, is struggling to achieve the same levels of viewership as during the Donald Trump administration. Maddow’s show finished fourth among cable news programs in 2021 with an average of 2.6 million total viewers each night, compared with 3.2 million for ratings leader Tucker Carlson of Fox News. Her Monday-only show averaged about 2 million viewers per episode in May, and the numbers were far lower for guest-hosted prime-time shows on other nights of the week.
Maddow, who took a two-month hiatus from the network early this year to work on a film adaptation of a book she wrote about former vice president Spiro Agnew, announced her limited schedule in April and said she wanted the additional time to pursue “other irons in the fire.” On top of her Monday hosting duties, she will continue to occasionally appear on the network on other nights of the week for special coverage, breaking news events and specials.
It’s unusual for a cable news network to split a prime-time slot like 9 p.m. between multiple hosts on different days, which could confuse viewers. When Maddow is at the desk on Mondays, the show will be called “The Rachel Maddow Show.” When Wagner hosts on subsequent nights, it will have a yet-to-be-determined name.
MSNBC President Rashida Jones said in a statement that Wagner was “a clear choice” for the role. “Her unique perspective — built on more than two decades in journalism — and tenacious reporting in the U.S. and abroad will help our audiences contextualize what matters,” Jones said.
The network pointed out that Wagner will be the only Asian American host of a prime-time cable news show.
Between now and Aug. 16, when Wagner takes over, the 9 p.m. hour will continue to be hosted by “a rotation of MSNBC anchors” on Maddow-less days, the network said.