For his debut on Monday night, Schultz drew 247,000 viewers age 25-64, and 725,000 total viewers. Both numbers were good enough only for third place behind Fox News and CNN, but they did represent a substantial increase over the previous occupant of the timeslot David Shuster’s 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. For the sake of comparison, Shuster’s last night at 6 pm drew 151,000 viewers in the 25-64 demographic, and 486,000 total viewers. The number of total viewers for 1600 usually hovered between 350,000 and 550,000, but MSNBC is hoping for much more from Ed Schultz.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that MSNBC’s target is the third hour of CNN’s The Situation Room which despite having itself as lead in shows some audience erosion from the 5 pm ET hour. In order to catch CNN on Monday The Ed Show would have had to have drawn about 400,000 more viewers to give Wolf Blitzer a real run for his money, but on an average night CNN has roughly 800,000 total viewers at 6 pm. If Ed Schultz matches his debut numbers on a nightly basis, he will not only compete with, but he will be beat CNN on some nights.
The obvious comparison to make would be between Schultz to Rachel Maddow. They both came to MSNBC from national radio. They are two of the more popular progressive radio talkers, and they both had very limited television experience when they began. The difference is that Maddow has a highly rated lead in with Keith Olbermann’s Countdown, but Schultz is following Hardball, which is usually running in third. A key difference is that while Schultz is popular on the radio, when MSNBC hired Maddow was already poised to be the youngish breakout star of lefty media.
Somewhat surprisingly the 7 pm (ET) Hardball replay, does better than the live 5 pm show, which leads me to wonder if the network wouldn’t be better served by turning over the 5 pm slot to someone else, and making 7 pm the live Hardball with Schultz serving as Chris Matthews’s lead in. A live 7 PM could also only serve to help Keith Olbermann in his ratings jihad against Bill O’Reilly.
Initially, the one mistake that I think MSNBC is making with The Ed Show is that they are trying to follow the Maddow template too closely. From the bright set and camera work to the rock music intros and fadeouts, The Ed Show looks like Maddow’s program. The problem is that Ed Schultz isn’t Rachel Maddow. Mr. Schultz is 20 years older that Maddow, and I think his show needs to reflect his style, which is much closer to Chris Matthews than it is to Olbermann and Maddow. I think that The Ed Show will be stylistically tweaked to fit its host more as time goes by, but right now it is a bit of an odd fit.
Schultz is making the same transition that Rachel Maddow did when she began her show, so one can expect that there will be some clunkiness and growing pains, but once he settles in Schultz will get more comfortable. His radio show is my opinion the most polished of the liberal shows, so it is a safe bet that if given time his television show will improve in a similar fashion. The Ed Show is in its awkward teenager stage right now, but it has the potential to mature into the long term answer to MSNBC’s 6 PM troubles.