The front page of Monday’s New York Times documented how liberals are seeking mental comfort food through old-fashioned means -- by binging on left-wing talk and comedy shows in front of the television set -- in “Seeking Communal Solace, Liberals Turn Back to the TV.”
There is a new safe space for liberals in the age of President Trump: the television set.
Left-leaning MSNBC, after flailing at the end of the Obama years, has edged CNN in prime time. Stephen Colbert’s openly anti-Trump “Late Show” is beating Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight” for the first time. Bill Maher’s HBO flock has grown nearly 50 percent since last year’s presidential primaries, and “The Daily Show” has registered its best ratings since Jon Stewart left in 2015.
Traditional television, a medium considered so last century, has watched audiences drift away for the better part of a decade. Now rattled liberals are surging back, seeking catharsis, solidarity and relief.
It’s not a very flattering look for the left, though neither they nor the paper’s solicitous reporters, Michael Grynbaum and John Koblin, seem to realize it, those mildly satirical opening graphs notwithstanding. After years of conservatives being mocked for watching Fox News, apparently it’s a good thing for liberals to curl up in front of a nice warm MSNBC for comfort.
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Some excerpts from the Times’ front-page promotion of liberal talk shows under the guise of newsgathering.
Many others feel the same. Last month, Ms. Maddow was watched by more viewers than at any time in the nine-year run of her show.
Instead, the old analog favorites are in, with comfort-food franchises like “Saturday Night Live” drawing its highest Nielsen numbers in 24 years. Despite a dizzying array of new media choices, viewers are opting for television’s mass gathering spots, seeking the kind of shared experience that can validate and reassure.
“There’s definitely a sense of we’re-in-this-together-ness,” Mr. Noah said in an interview, noting that Mr. Trump’s election had infused his show with a new sense of purpose.
Uncertainty and tumult have long driven ratings, and the interest is bipartisan. Fox News, already cable’s highest-rated network, is having another big year: In February, its prime-time viewership was up another 31 percent from a year ago.
One-fifth of the 48 million people who watched Mr. Trump’s address to Congress two weeks ago did so on Fox.
But MSNBC’s growth has outpaced its rivals -- its prime-time audience in February was up 55 percent from a year ago -- a striking turnaround for a channel once considered the also-ran of cable news.
The network has beaten CNN in total weekday prime-time viewers for six of the last seven months. (CNN still outranks MSNBC in prime time among the advertiser-friendly audience of adults ages 25 to 54.)
At MSNBC headquarters in New York on a recent weeknight, the mood was energized. Ms. Maddow sprinted down a low-ceilinged hallway minutes before her 9 o’clock airtime; the anchor was late for makeup after fine-tuning a 20-minute monologue on Russian meddling in the election. (Generous by cable news standards, the segment still spilled over its allotted time.)
It was a day after a Maddow milestone: Her Wednesday show outranked that of her Fox News counterpart, Tucker Carlson, in total audience and the coveted 25-to-54 demographic.
(No admission that Carlson’s show debuted in prime time only a couple of months ago and is already dominating his time slot, finishing #1 in January in that same key demographic.)
Later, after swapping her on-air blazer for a fleece zip-up, Ms. Maddow speculated that some viewers were gravitating to the show to feel part of a broader movement across the country.
Maddow said the sole sensible thing in the piece:
Still, Ms. Maddow smiled when told that some viewers say they turn to her as a source of sanity. “My standard response to that is, ‘That is a gossamer thread -- you need to work on that in your life!’” she said, laughing. “I’m a TV show, and you shouldn’t depend on me. Anything can happen. Build up other sources of sanity.”
Samantha Bee was interviewed without a mention of the segment on her TBS satire show “Full Frontal,” from the Conservative Political Action Conference last month, in which an attendee shown on screen was derided as having “Nazi hair.” It emerged that he was undergoing chemotherapy treatment for brain cancer.
Last week, outside a taping of Samantha Bee’s TBS comedy show, “Full Frontal,” Stacie Bloom, 44, said she was finding television “cathartic.”
“Maddow, I love her,” said Ms. Bloom, a scientist who lives in New York. “It’s reinforcing to watch. It’s the same reason I marched in the women’s march: It’s because I believe in it, and I want to be surrounded by other people who believe in it, too.”
Gloria Steinem, the liberal activist and writer, wrote in an email that she had grown tired of “false equivalency or even-handedness” from news organizations, which she blamed for aiding Mr. Trump’s rise.
“I watch MSNBC for Joy Reid, Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell because I trust them as journalists,” Ms. Steinem wrote, adding, “A journalist’s job is not to be balanced; it’s to be accurate.”