But just when the “Lean Forward” era appeared to be flickering out, Trump’s ascent and the ensuing political dramas turned the likes of Maddow into appointment television for its liberal viewers. As Robert Mueller’s investigation plodded on, MSNBC began to challenge Fox News’ ratings dominance, notching rare victories over its conservative counterpart. The Russiagate storyline proved particularly fruitful for Maddow, whose eponymous program milked every drip and drop from the Mueller probe en route to becoming the top-rated show on cable news and a must-stop for 2020 Democratic hopefuls.
With the election over, Griffin, a die-hard Mets fan, said last week, “the time felt right to hang up my cleats.” A more precise sports analogy might be an athlete calling it quits just before his team enters a rebuilding period. “In a way, he’s the luckiest man in television, exiting stage left at a time when everything is getting murkier,” said one high-ranking source at MSNBC. The task now falls to Jones to shepherd MSNBC through that murkiness, the causes of which are many. Lack’s turbulent tenure came to an end in May when he was replaced by former Telemundo chairman Cesar Conde, whose hire has prompted speculation of looming cuts throughout all of NBC’s news units and divisions. (MSNBC declined interview requests for Jones, Griffin, and Conde.) The end of the Trump era may thrust MSNBC back into the wilderness, with sleepier news cycles and a less rapt audience. “Nobody will need MSNBC the way they needed it the last four years,” said the host. “The TV will go off.”