Jon Stewart, Rachel Maddow Test Monday Media Model to Boost Talk TV

Can Mondays do for the TV business what Thursdays and Sundays once did? Some of the medium’s best-known personalities are trying to figure this question out.

When Jon Stewart re-emerges Monday night as a one-night-a-week host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” he will join MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Jen Psaki in making bespoke Monday appearances for their network, part of what has become a low-key scheduling experiment that actually has high stakes: In a medium best known for offering viewers the same hosts in the same time slots five nights a week, can TV networks that thrive on news-and-talk programs generate new attention and advertising dollars by doling them out less frequently ?

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“Monday is really appealing,” says Stephanie Morales, vice president of media intelligence at Magna, the Interpublic Group media-research firm. It tends to be the second-most-watched day of the week on linear TV, behind Sundays, she says. And viewers of talk and news programs tend to come in with headier expectations, she adds, because they anticipate the host tacking a stack of events that took place over the weekend. Mondays can be a great place to have a top newsmaker or celebrity guest, says Morales, because of the more intense viewership.

MSNBC and Comedy Central declined to make executives available for comment.

Their task is a difficult one. By creating a Monday-only talent slot, both networks have created what are essentially three different programs they must promote, market and book. Stewart will cede “Daily Show” broadcasts on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to the program’s current group of correspondents. Maddow and Psaki make occasional appearances outside of their programs, typically when a big headline rises in the current election cycle and MSNBC offers a different sort of analysis programming in primetime that makes use of multiple contributors.

Making sure a single day counts for more seems critical to Comedy Central, which lured Stewart back to hosting “The Daily Show” once a week for the 2024 election cycle. Prior to the news of his return, the Paramount Global network had been testing various guest hosts and the show’s own correspondent team — seemingly without much success. Roy Wood Jr., seen as a potential successor to the show’s most recent full-time host, Trevor Noah, opted to leave when Comedy Central would not offer solid details about its plans for the series. What’s more, the late-night show went dark during the recent Hollywood labor strikes, while rivals kept repeats on the air.

The lack of original episodes may have taken a toll. Advertisers trimmed their support of “Daily” in 2023, according to Vivvix, a tracker of ad outlays. “Daily Show” generated nearly $20.2 million in ad sales in the first 10 months of 2023, compared with $39.9 million in 2022. In 2014, Stewart’s last full year as host, the show took in $129.1 million — a figure it has not matched since.

Executives at Comedy Central see Mondays as the biggest viewing day of the week for younger audiences — especially men between 18 and 49. They also see Stewart using the day to recap events from the weekend and previous week and for setting an agenda for the week to come.

“Jon Stewart has the personality to bring in new unique households,” Janice Prewett, group director of media strategy at independent Dallas agency TRG. “There is more opportunity for continued ratings and unique household growth as people are exposed to short-form videos of Jon on the Internet, which could pull them toward tuning in to the show.”

But will his presence bring more viewers to the rest of the week, when the show’s correspondents will take the lead? Stewart and his WME agent, James Dixon, will serve as executive producers of the program and will have a say on both content and talent. Whether they can grow the program for the long term, or are simply going to keep it going in an election year, remains to be seen.

There are some signs that a Monday strategy can pay off — a little. In 2023, advertisers increased their spending on MSNBC’s Monday broadcast of “The Rachel Maddow Show,” according to data from ad-tracking company iSpot. The program’s Monday broadcast generated $4.9 million in advertising last year, am 11.6% increase over the $4.4 million in ad dollars spent in 2022, when Maddow announced that she would do Mondays only starting in May of that year.

Meanwhile, MSNBC has also seen new ad dollars committed to its Monday 8 p.m. slot, according to iSpot. The Monday hour anchored by Chris Hayes in 2022 snared approximately $4.6 million, in 2022, a figure that jumped 21% in 2023 to $5.6 million for an hour that has been anchored by Psaki since late September (Psaki also anchors a show middays on Sunday)..

Yet there’s little indication the move has helped MSNBC’s ratings across the rest of the week. The overall audiences generated by Maddow and Psaki on Mondays are not duplicated on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday.

“We do not anticipate the specific host change to result in greater viewership. However, we anticipate a potentially small ratings boost as the political season ramps up,” says Prewett. The opportunity for MSNBC, she adds, comes in ”aligning with audiences that Jen and Rachel resonate with most,” but “once the audience settles into the change, there will likely not be a huge opportunity for unique household gains.”

A case of the Mondays may be a tough one to solve.

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