MSNBC’s Chris Hayes will be getting out from behind the anchor desk and in front of an audience next month for a live taping of his Why Is This Happening? podcast, and he’s booked one of the Democratic Party’s breakout stars as his guest: Stacey Abrams. The former Georgia gubernatorial candidate — tapped earlier today to deliver the Democratic response to President Trump’s State of the Union address — will be interviewed by Hayes on February 24 at New York City’s Gramercy Theatre. It’s the first time MSNBC has sold tickets to a live taping of the Hayes podcast, and another sign of how cable news networks are looking to expand the brands of their talent beyond the TV studio.
Late last year, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow launched Bag Man, a Watergate-themed podcast mini-series which scored over 10 million downloads. And rival CNN has a large and expanding podcast roster, with shows from contributors such as Poppy Harlow, Harry Enten, and David Axelrod. For networks, the appeal of podcasts and live events is pretty simple: It’s a good way to promote their talent outside of their own shows, while also opening up not-insignificant revenue streams via advertising and, as in the case of the upcoming Abrams event, ticket sales. And for journalists such as Hayes, having a regular podcast provides what he describes as “so much more time, such a different pace” than his 8 p.m. weeknight series All In. It “allows a level of depth that’s just impossible in our show format,” he says.
Hayes tells Vulture via email that he’s particularly fond of working in front of a studio audience, something he’s done before with town halls. “I wish I had one for my show!” Hayes says. “My first experiences of performance, from the time I was 12 to 22 was live theater. When you’re in the same room as people you can feel viscerally where they’re at, when they’re locked in, when they’re laughing … The hardest part about TV, honestly, is the absence of that kind of immediate, visceral connection.” Last fall, Hayes did a sort of trial run for next month’s live podcast event by recording a conversation he had with author Ta-Nehisi Coates as part of an event organized by Coates’s publisher. It worked out so well, Hayes and MSNBC decided to do a bigger, more formal live podcast at a theater. Tickets for the February 24 event go on sale Wednesday morning via LiveNation.