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Liberals Find a TV Prescription for Election Jitters: Monday Nights

Liberal TV viewers have a new mantra: T.G.I.M.!

Monday nights have suddenly broken out in the Nielsen ratings — and in national relevance — thanks to a rare confluence: two TV superstars of the political left who have limited their regularly scheduled broadcasts to that one evening.

Jon Stewart, the “Daily Show” host and guiding light of Bush- and Obama-era Democrats who made a surprise comeback in February, now hosts his old show on Mondays at 11 p.m. Rachel Maddow, who stepped back from her nightly MSNBC duties in 2022, retained a dedicated hour every Monday at 9.

In a frazzled media age, their once-a-week programs have become something close to appointment viewing. Ms. Maddow’s Monday program is far and away the highest-rated hour of MSNBC’s entire week. Mr. Stewart’s “Daily Show” significantly outdraws the other weeknight editions of the show, and has proved to be a rare breakout hit for Comedy Central.

For Democrats anxious about a close election, Ms. Maddow and Mr. Stewart represent a particular kind of comfort: seasoned partisan warriors who have led viewers through past convulsions in the political arena.

“‘Tell me it’s going to be all right’ is the common refrain,” said Martin Kaplan, who runs the Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California, adding that Mr. Stewart’s monologues are now the first thing he hears about from friends on Tuesday mornings. “It’s, ‘Did you see? Did you hear? Did you watch?’”

Their Monday success is a sign of the staying power of television personalities who established themselves with viewers years before the news landscape splintered into hundreds of smaller outlets.

For decades, the conventional wisdom for talk shows was that a dedicated host had to appear five days a week to gain an audience, because viewers needed to settle into a habit. But in this new era of irregularly scheduled podcasts and on-demand streaming entertainment, viewers appear to be just fine dipping in once in a while.

Monday nights also include an up-and-coming star among anti-Trump viewers: Jen Psaki, President Biden’s former press secretary whose MSNBC show appears once a week in prime time, on Mondays at 8 p.m. Since starting in October, Ms. Psaki has increased viewership by 9 percent in her time slot.

While the hosts agree on many matters — none, for instance, believe Mr. Trump is suited to return to the presidency — their opinions represent a spectrum of viewpoints on the political left. Notably, Mr. Stewart has broken Democratic orthodoxy by mocking Mr. Biden for his advanced age, pointing out that many voters harbor qualms about his physical and cognitive fitness.

Mr. Stewart’s debut monologue in February included a desperate plea to White House aides who insisted on their boss’s mental acuity — “You should film that! That would be good to show to people!” — and an onscreen headline that referred to the 2024 election as “Antiques Roadshow.”

Mary Trump, Mr. Trump’s niece and a relentless critic, chastised Mr. Stewart’s jokes as “‘both sides are the same’ rhetoric” and “a potential disaster for democracy.”

But judging from the crowds that line up on Monday afternoons outside the “Daily Show” studio on the Far West Side of Manhattan, Mr. Stewart’s iconoclasm has not diluted the enthusiasm of his fan base.

Tom Loker, 46, traveled two hours from Pennsylvania with his wife to attend a recent taping. Although they had fallen out of the habit of regularly watching “The Daily Show,” they have been lured back by Mr. Stewart.

“We record all of them, but I record it because I want to get the Monday show,” Mr. Loker said as he waited in line.

At a taping last month, Alexis Miller, a 41-year-old urban planner from Winnipeg, Canada, praised Mr. Stewart as a “cultural force.”

“He’s an equal-opportunity joke maker, and he doesn’t punch down,” she said.

Demand for tickets to attend Mr. Stewart’s Monday tapings is significantly higher than it is for other days of the week, according to two people granted anonymity to share details from internal discussions.

And the show’s ratings underscore that level of excitement. When Mr. Stewart is behind the desk, “The Daily Show” gets an average 1.7 million viewers, more than double the key demo ratings of his predecessor, Trevor Noah, according to Nielsen data that includes three days of delayed viewing.

The rotating cast of correspondents that takes over hosting duties every other day of the week are drawing about 770,000 viewers, Nielsen said.

Mr. Stewart’s return is benefiting the entire show. Last year, when “The Daily Show” used a series of guests hosts, the show averaged roughly 620,000 viewers between February and May, according to Nielsen. When Trevor Noah was hosting “The Daily Show” in 2022, the program averaged just over 550,000 viewers.

This year, Ms. Maddow’s show has averaged 2.5 million viewers. Alex Wagner, MSNBC’s 9 p.m. host on weeknights other than Monday, averages 1.4 million viewers.

Ms. Maddow continues to appear on MSNBC during major political events, like primary nights and the State of the Union address. Some fans record her Monday show to watch later on: “The Rachel Maddow Show” has the highest DVR viewership of any MSNBC show, with more than 900,000 additional viewers watching in the week after her Monday broadcast, according to Nielsen.

Of course, conservative cable news hosts have their own loyal followings. In May, the Fox News shows “The Five” (three million) and “Jesse Watters Primetime” (2.7 million) averaged more viewers than Ms. Maddow (2.4 million).

Mr. Stewart, who originally left “The Daily Show” in 2015, tried his own version of a weekly streaming program, “The Problem,” on Apple TV+. Mr. Stewart left that show after running into disagreements with Apple executives, but it also faced challenges gaining traction with viewers.

Yet it was his return to his old basic cable stomping grounds that catapulted Mr. Stewart back into the political conversation.

“I watched him as a kid, which was years and years ago,” Alex Forlenza, a 24-year-old researcher at Columbia, said while waiting in line for a taping with Mr. Stewart. “‘The Problem’ was not as good. But him on ‘The Daily Show,’ I’ve enjoyed it so far.”

J. Edward Moreno contributed reporting.

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