New MSNBC Host Chris Hayes Channels Rachel Maddow — and Tim Robbins

The new weekend show host looks to replicate the “substantive perspective and sensibility” of his TV mentor, Rachel Maddow

Update 2:45 p.m. PT:

TheWrap spoke with Chris Hayes, newly named weekend MSNBC host, on Monday about his new show, TV mentor Rachel Maddow and the impossibility of covering the debt crisis. The Washington editor of The Nation talked diversity and the transition from print to TV formats. 

Cable news is very white, male and straight," Hayes told TheWrap. "I feel extremely strongly given the fact that I can't do anything about my own white male straightness that I have the duty to double down in efforts to make sure what we present is reflective of the diversity of the country at large in a way that cable news doesn't always do a good job of."

He praised Maddow, who gave him his first guest-hosting gig, saying, "I absolutely would not be doing this if it weren't for her."

As someone who has predominantly been a print journalist, how does it feel to be a TV host now?

I’m super stoked. It's like planting a flag in virgin soil. I don’t think there is anything else on cable news that looks like this. Obviously Alex Witt has being doing weekends for a while but it’s the first post-Lean Forward weekend programming.

So in what way is it unique?

The way I’ve been describing it to people in a Tim Robbins in “The Player” shorthand is if you took the format and aesthetic sensibility of “Morning Joe” and the substantive perspective and sensibility of “The [Rachel] Maddow Show” and fused them. It will less prompter driven and more multi-vocal with chances for the explanatory journalism that I like to do.

You say multi-vocal, do you already have a list of guests in mind?

I don’t want to do that because I don’t want to get out ahead of myself. But I will say I want a very diverse, young and ideologically idiosyncratic group.

Diverse in what way?

Race, gender and sexual orientation. Cable news is very white, male and straight. I feel extremely strongly given the fact that I can't do anything about my own white male straightness that I have the duty to double down in efforts to make sure what we present is reflective of the diversity of the country at large in a way that cable news doesn't always do a good job of.

You have mentioned Rachel Maddow a few times. She is part of MSNBC's recent success in prime time, but the network has not found the same audience on the weekend. How do you change that?

Building an audience might take a little while just because of the fact that we haven't had something like this on the network. But there are viewers there to be had. I know just from my Twitter stream today that there are a lot of MSNBC viewers excited about it.

So is Maddow your model as an anchor?

I admire what Rachel has done and I absolutely would not be doing this if it weren't for her. The first time I ever guest-hosted was for her show [...] What she is able to do in prime time is remarkable. There were shows during the Fukushima disaster in which she was doing seven minutes on how a nuclear reactor works — and she was getting 400, 450 in the demo. She has opened up a door on a whole new realm of possibility of ways you can create an audience.

Then what is your audience?

There are two ways of thinking about your audience in political journalism. You can think about your audience in terms of the players or the citizens. This is not to denigrate the people who view their audience as the players — when there are certain outlets or shows that are watched or read by the chief of staff of senator Harry Reid or John Boehner and they do something…you can have a real effect. But I don’t think that is the kind of journalism…that is not who I have ever considered audience.

Speaking of Reid and Boehner, what have you made of the media's coverage of the debt crisis?

I'm somewhat sympathetic to the difficulty of covering it because it’s a little like covering a waiting room [...] It has this eternal recurrence groundhog day feel to it. So it is challenging to make exciting journalism out of that as people start to tune out.

 

Earlier:

MSNBC is taking another shot at carrying its primetime success over into the weekend as it launches a morning show with Chris Hayes, Washington editor of The Nation.

Hayes announced the new show on Twitter Monday, writing, “In addition to the new MSNBC show on Sat and Sun mornings, I'll be staying on as Editor at Large at the Nation. Gonna be an exciting fall.”

Like Al Sharpton, who is rumored to be taking over the 6 p.m. slot, Hayes has been a regular MSNBC contributor.

He will air two separate shows — one on Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and one on Sundays from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Also read: MSNBC Bids Adieu to Cenk Uygur

“Chris is a thoughtful analyst and one of the smartest journalists out there,” Phil Griffin, MSNBC President, said in a statement. "As we head into election season, there is no better time to amp up our weekend political coverage.”

This is one of several recent changes at cable news’ number two network. Cenk Uygur was let go at 6 p.m. — the slot Sharpton is supposed to be taking — while Craig Melvin was hired as a daytime anchor. However, the rest of the primetime lineup has gone unchanged since Keith Olbermann's departure in January.

That stands in contrast to CNN, which reshaped its entire lineup after "In the Arena" with Eliot Spitzer was cancelled.