We here at Mediaite get paid to incessantly watch the blowhards, pundits, and wonks on cable news. In fact, our new motto should be: “We watch cable news so you don’t have to.” But while we have plenty of negative to say about the business and the goofy clown-shows it produces, there stands among the massive pile of non-stop shoutfests, unabashed spin cycles, and shameless concern-trolling, a handful of shows give us a glimmer of hope.
After voting amongst our staff, we’ve compiled a list of shows we consider the best of cable news. Factors considered in our votes: The willingness to challenge viewers’ preconceived notions, speak truth to power, ask tough questions, ponder difficult subjects, deliver the news in a refreshing way, tell human stories in a compelling way, or avoid partisan histrionics.
We’ve excluded the Comedy Central and HBO “faux-news” shows, since we’re talking strictly about shows that air on major networks purporting to present viewers with hard news (Fox, CNN, MSNBC, FBN, HLN, CNBC, AJAM, etc.).
Enjoy below (and check back next week when we reveal our “12 Worst Shows on Cable News”):
12. The Daily Rundown (MSNBC)
It’s not so much that The Daily Rundown is an exceptionally produced cable show. It’s that Chuck Todd hosts it. Todd himself is likable enough as a host but, more importantly, he understands the political scene in Washington, D.C., in a way that doesn’t come off as insufferable. He uses that knowledge to ask his high-profile political guests thoughtful questions and provide honest analysis of current events. – Eddie Scarry
11. The Kelly File (Fox News)
Megyn Kelly is quickly becoming the face of Fox’s primetime lineup, largely for her tough-as-nails approach to interviews. Since moving to 9 p.m., Kelly’s quickly made a dent by posing challenging questions to conservatives like John Bolton and, perhaps more famously, former VP Dick Cheney. Sure, sometimes she falls prey to primetime shtick; but most of the time she is a standout in a field filled with otherwise deeply-partisan hosts. – Josh Feldman
10. Anderson Cooper 360° (CNN)
With CNN rejiggering its primetime lineup every few months or so, it’s refreshing to have Ol’ Reliable, Anderson Cooper, as the continuing de facto face of the network. AC360 is the quintessential cable news program (emphasis on the news part), and it particularly shines when Cooper is out in the field covering a big international story before everyone else. On top of that, the “Ridiculist” is always good for a genuine laugh or two — something sorely lacking in this hyper-partisan business. – Josh Feldman
9. Reliable Sources (CNN)
When Howard Kurtz ditched CNN to replicate his show for Fox News last fall, his long-running Sunday morning media criticism show seemed doomed. Instead of scrapping it, however, CNN gave it to 28-year-old New York Times reporter Brian Stelter. The newly-revamped Reliable has drawn attention to media stories that the coveted younger demo can actually get excited about and, in the process, elevated the show to a level it rarely, if ever, reached with Kurtz at the helm. – Matt Wilstein
8. Shepard Smith Reporting (Fox News)
No anchor in cable news does breaking news better than Shepard Smith. Whether it’s a crisis across the globe, a Supreme Court ruling, or even just a high-speed car chase, Smith is reliably sturdy in his presentation. His new show’s glitzy futuristic set with massive computer monitors and a gigantic TV screen allow his team to track the news faster and better than before. When breaking news occurs, there’s a reason we find ourselves asking “When’s Shep going to show up?” (He’s also got a wicked sense of humor.) – Eddie Scarry
7. All In with Chris Hayes (MSNBC)
MSNBC’s Chris Hayes should win an award just for going head-to-head with Bill O’Reilly at 8 p.m. every night. When the network put its most inexperienced primetime anchor directly opposite the perennial ratings winner, they basically conceded the hour to Fox. But at the same time, the move liberated Hayes to make the show he thought was important — if he was never going to reach the top of the ratings pile, he might as well take some chances.
Since its April 2013 debut, All In with Chris Hayes has kept the focus directly on big, complex issues and rarely succumbed to O’Reilly-style theatrics. On top of that, Hayes has stood out from his MSNBC peers by truly challenging figures who may have gotten softball (or no) treatment from some other hosts on the network. – Matt Wilstein
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