MSNBC has hired Alex Wagner to succeed Rachel Maddow as its weekday host from its 9 p.m., four days a week, turning to a political news veteran to fill one of the network’s key time slots.
Ms. Wagner, 44, is a Washington journalist with roots in cutting edge news and opinion magazines. She worked for MSNBC as a daytime show host for several years and rejoined the station in February as a senior political analyst and prime-time gas tanker, replacing Ms. Maddow and Chris Hayes.
In an interview, Rashida Jones, the station’s president, said Ms. Wagner’s experience in politics would be crucial as the network prepares for this fall’s midterm elections.
“This isn’t a show where our hair is on fire and we’re screaming past each other, and we’re creating these manufactured moments of tension,” said Ms. Jones. “I really want this show’s takeaway to be a better understanding of what’s happening in the world.”
MSNBC said Ms. Wagner is the only Asian American to host a primetime cable news program.
Ms. Maddow, MSNBC’s most popular host, reached a deal last year that scaled back her hosting duties with the channel. She will continue to host the 9 p.m. Monday, when the show will still be called “The Rachel Maddow Show.” Ms. Wagner will be hosting a show at that hour from Tuesday through Friday beginning August 16. The name of her show has not yet been decided.
The 9 p.m., a hub of the prime-time lineup, is now just one part of a broader programming strategy that includes TV, streaming, podcasts and newsletters. MSNBC, Fox News and DailyExpertNews have all launched video streaming services in recent years, amid wider industry concerns about the long-term erosion in cable television audiences.
But traditional TV continues to hold sway among cable news networks, despite the growing emphasis on emerging formats. Advertising budgets have slowly shifted away from traditional TV, and prime-time viewership is still a measure of success in a ratings-obsessed industry. TV distribution deals with cable companies such as Comcast and Charter are still huge cash cows for cable news networks. DailyExpertNews’s new owners shut down the streaming service in April.
Ms. Jones said MSNBC would try to build the network’s overall brand across a variety of different distribution platforms rather than focusing on traditional TV, an approach echoed by Chris Licht, DailyExpertNews’s new chairman.
“It’s no secret that the audience on cable is changing and changing quickly,” said Ms. Jones. “It’s still a big chunk of the audience that consumes MSNBC, but we’re really focused on, how can we bring that deep connection to new places?”
Ms. Jones said MSNBC along with Ms. Wagner would explore options to appear on NBCUniversal’s streaming platforms, such as Peacock. Other MSNBC programs, including “Morning Joe” and “All In With Chris Hayes,” appear hours after they air on the MSNBC cable channel on Peacock.
Mrs. Jones said she did not consult with Mrs. Maddow about her replacement. Ms. Jones said Ms. Wagner has been shortlisted for months to host MSNBC’s 9 p.m., though she declined to go into details of the negotiations.
Ms. Wagner’s tortuous journalism career spanned print, digital, and TV channels. Born in Washington, DC, Ms. Wagner has worked as a cultural correspondent for the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank; as co-host of the Showtime political docuseries “The Circus”; and on the Atlantic Ocean.
Ms. Wagner’s relationship with MSNBC dates back more than a decade. As of 2011, she hosted “Now With Alex Wagner”, a weekday opinion show. It was canceled in 2015 as the network turned its lineup more towards live coverage and less opinion during the day.
A 1999 graduate of Brown University, Mrs. Wagner is married to Sam Kass, a former White House chef who became close friends with Barack and Michelle Obama.