When Chris Hayes, then the Washington editor of the Nation, started appearing as a guest host on MSNBC, he wore a pair of basic, beige-ish glasses. Recently, like off-camera Rachel Maddow and the network’s former star, Keith Olbermann, he’s been sporting a pair of dark, thick-rimmed specs. And now, he’s got his own new show on the network starting September 17 and airing at 7 a.m. on Saturdays and 8 a.m. on Sundays. We called him up to ask whether there was a direct cause-effect relationship between the glasses and the show. Hayes pretended to be confused by that line of questioning (“maybe subliminally”?), but gamely filled us in on some of the other details.
It’s meant as a look at the week that was (Saturday) and the week that will be (Sunday), featuring panels of guests along with produced, explanatory segments that you might not find on the average weeknight cable news show. “What the Week in Review or Times Magazine or the Week is to Twitter and blogs, that’s what we want to be to primetime cable news,” Hayes said. “It’s very hard when news breaks to have something distinct and value-added to say about it,” he stated, and then hastened to add diplomatically that Maddow — for whom he frequently fills in — is “awe-inspiring” in her ability to do so daily. But the gridlock that’s recently characterized the political process might actually help Hayes’s ratings, or at least the breaking-news quotient of the show: “Increasingly, Congress and the president don’t do things until the last minute,” he said, a mixture of disillusioned and ever-so-slightly excited. “So stuff starts to happen on the weekends more and more.”
Hayes comes across as awfully earnest in many ways — asked whether his politics might be even more liberal than the average MSNBC-er’s, he replied with a carefully parsed disquisition on the meaning of the American left — but it seems as if he wants his show to be less self-serious than the average cable news offering. Or, as he earnestly put it, the weekend slot will let him “break out of genre conventions” and be a bit more informal. It will be primarily a political discussion, but one on which guests might include, say, comedic writers or pop culture commentators who get at politics sideways. And he wants to cover books and movies a little bit too, in hopes of recreating, to a certain extent, the feeling of scrolling through Twitter, which he describes as “sprawling, slightly chaotic, but synthetic, with all of the miscellanea attached.”
Hayes, who is 32 and friendly with some of D.C.’s younger, bloggier set, says an explicit goal of his is to create a recurring “cast of characters” — but one that’s more youthful and diverse than a typical cable news show might feature. When he’s guest-hosted for Maddow, for instance, he’s booked guests like Ezra Klein and Ann Friedman. But mostly, ” I don’t want hacky partisans.”
Hayes is essentially, then, aiming his show at a viewer who looks an awful lot like himself — young-ish, idealistic, pop-culture-savvy. But that might be exactly the problem: He admits himself that he doesn’t typically watch cable news when it airs. He catches up with clips on the web the next day. But — idealistically! — he thinks that could be just fine for his purposes. “Where I’m sitting, it’s kind of great [that people watch on the Web.] There are a lot of people who aren’t up on Saturday and Sunday morning,” and a show with a “shelf life,” like the one he envisions, would, he hopes, be the kind of thing they might look up later.
The Bronx native just moved from Washington to Brooklyn for the gig (and had his moving trucks stranded somewhere along the New Jersey turnpike in the process). Hayes and his wife are expecting a baby this fall, and he’s also working on revising the draft of forthcoming book on the crisis of authority in American life and moving into a editor-at-large role for the Nation. He spoke warmly of the people he got to know in D.C., but didn’t sound terribly heartbroken to be leaving the city. “I got out of Washington what I needed to get out of Washington in four years.”