Cable News Ratings Upheaval: Maddow and Cooper Dominate, Fox Slips With Rare Week at No. 3

Rachel Maddow - 2016 Town Hall Special in Flint Michigan - Getty - H 2017
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A week filled with developments from the Trump administration has MSNBC leading primetime and CNN boasting total-day demo victories.

There hasn't been a horse race like this in cable news in quite some time ... if ever.

A week of humbling headlines for the embattled Trump administration proved to be ratings paydirt for CNN and MSNBC, each of which scored significant victories in different dayparts. Simultaneously, Fox News Channel posted its first five-day streak at No. 3 in primetime since 2000.

Both CNN and MSNBC nabbed big wins among adults 25-54, with CNN winning total day in the key demo for the workweek and MSNBC scoring in primetime. Though it was a tight race between 8 and 11 p.m. throughout the week, FNC ranked below the other two for the first time in almost 17 years.

Primetime Averages for May 15-19
1. MSNBC: 611,000 adults 25-54; 2.44 million viewers
2. CNN: 589,000 adults 25-54; 1.65 million viewers
3. FNC: 497,000 adults 25-54; 2.41 million viewers

Standout telecasts include CNN's Anderson Cooper 360. With Bill O'Reilly now out of play in the 8 o'clock time slot for more than a month, Cooper placed No. 1 for the hour Monday through Friday. (The last time CNN had such a streak in the hour was during coverage of the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.) MSNBC and FNC traded off the No. 2 slot, with O'Reilly replacement Tucker Carlson coming in at No. 3 on several nights.

Rachel Maddow remains the biggest story in cable news. Her nightly dominance now a safe bet, the anchor's MSNBC show topped the week among adults 25-54 with an average 760,000 viewers in the key news demo. The Rachel Maddow Show is driving MSNBC to a record streak. Last week marked its second consecutive one atop the demo in primetime, and the first ever with a win among total viewers.

All three networks are up significantly from the same period a year ago — and even with its string of nights at No. 3, FNC is still winning the month of May in both primetime and total day. (That's in the demo and total viewers.) But with CNN and MSNBC on its heels in different dayparts, this last week will prove to be make-or-break for all parties.

The confluence of events here is a decidedly unique one. CNN certainly benefits from fast-moving stories, and MSNBC is no doubt getting opposition eyeballs as the Republican government battles crisis after crisis, but the fact that FNC's comparatively weaker narrative comes amid massive programming shifts cannot be ignored. Its primetime lineup is virtually unrecognizable from the one that finished 2016 (the biggest year in cable news history) on top.

With Megyn Kelly now at NBC and O'Reilly off podcasting somewhere, Sean Hannity is the only network stalwart holding down the FNC lineup.