Chris Hayes will take over the 8 p.m. time slot on MSNBC in the next month, the channel is planning to announce on Thursday morning, hours after the current host of that hour, Ed Schultz, said he was moving from the weekdays to the weekends.
Mr. Hayes, a liberal intellectual who has hosted a well-regarded weekend morning program on MSNBC for the past 18 months, is a protege of Rachel Maddow, the highest-rated host on the channel. He will become the lead-in for her 9 p.m. program, “The Rachel Maddow Show.”
The change is predicated on the belief that MSNBC can win a wider audience with Mr. Hayes than it did with Mr. Schultz, a champion of the working class whose bluster didn’t always pair well with Ms. Maddow and the channel’s other prime time program, “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell.” Mr. Hayes, on the other hand, is just as wonky as Ms. Maddow and Mr. O’Donnell, and is a regular contributor to both of their programs.
Mr. Hayes’s promotion was described by people who spoke on the condition of anonymity because it had not been officially announced by the channel yet. Once it takes effect, Mr. Hayes, 34, will be the youngest host of a prime-time show on any of the country’s major cable news channels, all of which seek out youthful viewers but tend to have middle-aged hosts and a core audiencemade up of senior citizens. Of Mr. Schultz’s one million viewers last year, for example, only 249,000 were between the ages of 25 and 54.
Ms. Maddow had an average of 339,000 viewers in that key demographic. Usually cable news ratings work the other way — the programs earlier in the evening outperform the programs later in the evening. That’s partly why MSNBC sees an opportunity to grow at 8 p.m.
But taking over that hour is a difficult assignment for Mr. Hayes, given Bill O’Reilly’s commanding grip on the time slot. Mr. O’Reilly, the biggest star on the Fox News Channel, routinely doubled Mr. Schultz’s delivery of 25- to 54-year-old viewers last year, much to the chagrin of Mr. Schultz, who parodied his rival on a regular basis. The ratings imbalance at 8 p.m. helped to obscure the fact that MSNBC has, in prime time overall, crept closer to Fox in that age group.
Mr. Hayes is as eager as anyone at MSNBC to beat Fox, even if the two channels don’t actually fight for the same viewers. His metamorphosis from a writer at The Nation magazine to a broadcaster began several years ago when he was signed up to be a part-time paid contributor to MSNBC. He impressed executives at the channel when he filled in for Ms. Maddow in 2011, and in September of that year he was given his weekend morning show, called “Up with Chris Hayes.”