The television butterfly effect has become a popular topic. At San Diego Comic-Con, “The Simpsons” executive producer Matt Selman (somewhat) jokingly pointed out that it was his animated smash that gave Rupert Murdoch the resources to launch Fox News… which created a political environment that eventually also led to a President Trump.
NBCUniversal must appreciate the irony: However America got here, MSNBC – with host Rachel Maddow as its central star – has capitalized on the hunger to make sense of this administration.
It’s only been eight months (just three years and three months until the next presidential election, folks), but the Trump effect has had a tremendous impact on TV ratings. Talk shows that focus on political humor, like “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee,” and “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah,” have hit record numbers, while “Saturday Night Live” is coming off its most-watched season in more than two decades.
But the biggest boon in TV is cable news. Even though 2016 was a presidential year, when news viewership spiked, this year is even bigger: Fox News was tops among cable networks in second-quarter primetime viewership, averaging 2.4 million viewers, compared to 2 million last year during the same timeframe. CNN was up to 1.1 million, vs. 982,000 a year ago.
Popular on IndieWire
And then there’s MSNBC, averaging 1.7 million viewers in the second quarter, doubling from 897,000 at this point in 2016.
It must be a lot of fun to write the ratings press releases at MSNBC these days. As the Trump administration goes low, they go high. Here are five big highlights:
1. July juggernaut: MSNBC won the weekday primetime race in July among adults 25-54 (a key news demo) and adults 18-49. In total viewers, the network led CNN by its largest margin ever, and was the closest it has been to Fox News since September 2000.
2. It’s not just news networks: Fox News (2.1 million) and MSNBC (1.7 million) were the top two networks among all cable outlets in July among total viewers, ahead of No. 3 HGTV (1.6 million), No. 4 USA (1.5 million), and No. 5 History (1.3 million).
For the week of July 17, MSNBC managed to be No. 1 among all cable networks for the first time ever (in its 21-year history) during weekday prime (Monday through Friday 8-11pm) in total viewers – ahead of Fox News, Disney Channel, USA and HGTV.
3. “The Rachel Maddow Show” reigns: Maddow anchored the No. 1 cable news series in July among total viewers, adults 25-54, and adults 18-49. Excluding specials, political events, the Olympics and other anomalies, that makes it the first No. 1 non-Fox News show since “Larry King Live” in October 2001.
In March, MSNBC and “Maddow Show” beat Fox News and CNN in the signature 9 p.m. hour for the first time in the network’s history.
4. Weekday benchmark: During the week of May 15, MSNBC won the weekday primetime news race among both adults 25-54 and total viewers, beating Fox News and CNN simultaneously in both measurements for the first time ever.
5. Records broken: In the second quarter of 2017, MSNBC tied for No. 1 among adults 18-49, the first time it had topped a quarter in that demo. And in the first quarter, MSNBC moved past CNN in total viewers.