Chris Matthews’ ‘Hardball’ Ratings Won’t Be So Hard for MSNBC to Replace

Abruptly retired anchor was behind Fox News and CNN in key adults 25-54 demographic

Chris Matthews was a mainstay at MSNBC for two-plus decades until his abrupt resignation on Monday following several on-air gaffes and an accusation he made inappropriate remarks to another journalist. What he was not, however, was a big ratings draw.

Last month, “Hardball With Chris Matthews” was dead last in the 7 p.m. ET time slot among adults 25-54, the key demographic for cable news programming most coveted by advertisers. According to Nielsen’s Live + Same Day ratings, he drew just 229,000 viewers per episode in the key demo — trailing both Fox News’ “The Story With Marta MacCallum” (512,000 adults 25-54) and CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront” (251,000 adults 25-54).

Still, Matthews managed to draw 1.5 million total viewers, ahead of Burnett (964,000) but still well behind MacCallum (2.7 million). That means the 74-year-old’s audience skewed a little long in the tooth.

Those rankings aren’t just for February — the cable news standings shook out the same way for calendar 2019, when “Hardball” topped CNN for the 10th straight year in total viewers.

Matthews had the 21st most-watched show on cable news in February. That positioning holds true for both the main demo and in overall audience.

The TV veteran surprised viewers on Monday by announcing his retirement on air. “After a conversation with MSNBC, I decided tonight will be my last ‘Hardball,'” he said. “The younger generations out there are ready to take the reins. … They’re improving the workplace. We’re talking here about better standards than we grew up with, fair standards.”

“A lot of it has to do with how we talk to each other. Compliments on a woman’s appearance that some men, including me, might have once incorrectly thought were OK were never OK,” he continued. “For making such comments in the past, I’m sorry.”

After his announcement, the show cut to a commercial break; when it returned, political correspondent Steve Kornacki replaced Matthews on air and appeared surprised by the announcement. “That was a lot to take in just now, I’m sure,” Kornacki said. “I’m sure you’re still absorbing that and I am too.”

An MSNBC representative told TheWrap that the network will feature a rotating series of hosts until a new show is selected for the time slot.

Matthews’ retirement came three days after a journalist accused him of making inappropriate comments to her when she was a guest on his show. After the accusation was published last Friday in GQ, Matthews was noticeably absent from MSNBC’s coverage of the South Carolina primaries on Saturday.

Late last month, Matthews also garnered criticism for comparing Bernie Sanders’ Nevada caucus win to the fall of France to Nazi Germany in 1940, leading the MSNBC host to issue an apology. His post-debate interview with Elizabeth Warren, where he questioned why Warren believed a female employee of Mike Bloomberg’s who accused the former mayor of pressuring her to have an abortion, also received pushback.

Matthews’ on-air announcement ends his 23-year tenure as the host of “Hardball.” The show began in 1997.

“For those of you who’ve gotten in the habit of watching ‘Hardball’ every night, I hope you’re gonna miss it, ’cause I’m gonna miss you,” Matthews said on Monday evening.

Tony Maglio

Tony Maglio

TV Editor • • Twitter: @tonymaglio


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