CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- MSNBC president Phil Griffin is a happy man.

On Wednesday afternoon, Griffin learned that MSNBC was the top-rated cable network for the opening night of the Democratic National Convention, a first in its 16-year history and a validation of the network's progressive shift in recent years.

"I'm thrilled. You kidding me?" Griffin told The Huffington Post, shortly after getting the news. "You have to take a moment. For all of us in here, we're just taking a moment. Nobody thought we could do this. But to beat CNN and Fox on a big night like that? To beat ABC and CBS on a big night like that? That is friggin' fantastic. Everybody at MSNBC should feel great."

Griffin spoke Wednesday from the MSNBC Experience in Charlotte, where fans of the network had just lined up for a book-signing with Melissa Harris-Perry, taken part in a Google+ chat with Ed Schultz and gawked as Chris Matthews made his way to an outdoor set. Inside the MSNBC Experience, fans grabbed buttons with personalities like Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O'Donnell and a few posed next to a huge picture of Al Sharpton.

With the exception of Matthews, the aforementioned hosts didn't have their own shows this time four years ago -- and neither did Chris Hayes, Alex Wagner or Martin Bashir. Back then, the network's biggest star was Keith Olbermann, who has since joined and left Current TV.

Griffin said MSNBC has "evolved" over the past four years. The network, he said, is "about smarts, it's about depth."

"People connect with us," Griffin said. "It's not about just having your ideas reflected back at you. That is bogus. That is wrong. It is about trusting people who do their homework, who know it, who live in the world of facts. They connect with all these people. There is a personal connection between our hosts and our audience. They believe in them. They trust them because they do the homework. They do the hard work. So they come in here and they want their picture taken with the picture of the guy. They believe in them. That's a powerful thing."

MSNBC came in first Tuesday night in both total viewers (4.107 million) and in the 18-49 demographic (1.432 million). CNN ranked second (3.88 and 1.368 million), with Fox News -- the dominant cable news network and the big winner during the Republican National Convention -- coming in third (2.398 and 550,000 million).

While Fox News has steered clear of lavish parties or branded locations at the conventions, and CNN has opened "Grills" in both convention cities that cater mainly to the political and media elite, MSNBC chose to open its doors in Charlotte to the Democratic faithful -- the voters, and viewers, most likely to flock to meet the network's liberal hosts.

But while those mobbing MSNBC stars in Charlotte are clearly fans of the network's convention coverage, some have been critical. A harsh review in The New York Times, for example, called the network Fox News' "evil liberal twin," with TV critic Alessandra Stanley writing that MSNBC had offered "counterprogramming, not coverage" of the Republican convention.

And on Tuesday, Sam Feist, Washington bureau chief for CNN, told The Huffington Post that "if you watch MSNBC during convention coverage, you have a cheering section for the Democrats."

Griffin rejected the notion that the network's hosts are supporting one party over the other.

"My problem with that is it doesn't give credit to what we've done," Griffin said. "That's painting in big, fat, ugly strokes and it's just not right. If you look at our coverage, if you look what our people said during the Republican convention -- It wasn't cheerleading for the Democrats when Ed Schultz says 'a star is born' with Ryan and gives him a ton of credit for that speech, when Lawrence O'Donnell comes right after the Romney speech and says 'best speech of his career, of his life, that's what they needed to do and they did it,' when we have Steve Schmidt on our desk explaining the strategy of everything they're doing."

"Yes, we have a sensibility," he continued. "And yes, it's progressive. But I think that there's a difference between us and Fox and a big difference between us and CNN. And that is, we go deeper. We're not afraid to have depth. Our shows require you to sit down and listen and we connect with the audience."

Griffin said he wished MSNBC "had what Fox has, where people just turn it on and just leave it on all day." Instead, he said, "people come to us because they like all our individual people. I think we've created something strong and different than the other guys."

"Going into 2008, we were a distant third," Griffin said. "Then we got to be a close third. Going into 2012, we were a distant second. Now we're going to be a closer second. It only bodes well for the future."

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  • President Barack Obama laughs with his wife Michelle and his daughters Malia and Sasha after his speech to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • President Barack Obama waves with his wife Michelle and his daughters Malia and Sasha after his speech to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • Joe Biden, Barack Obama

    Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama wave to the delegates at the conclusion of Presdident Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • President Barack Obama waves with his wife Michelle and his daughters Malia and Sasha after his speech to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • President Barack Obama waves with his wife Michelle and his daughters Malia and Sasha after his speech to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • President Barack Obama waves with his wife Michelle and his daughters Malia and Sasha after his speech to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • President Barack Obama waves with his wife Michelle and his daughters Malia and Sasha after his speech to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama stands with his family, (L-R) First lady Michelle Obama, Sasha Obama, and Malia Obama during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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    US President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, daughters Malia (L) and Sasha (C) wave after Obama's acceptance speech at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 6, 2012 on the final day of the Democratic National Convention (DNC). AFP PHOTO Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Barack Obama

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  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on stage as he accepts the nomination for president during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on stage as he accepts the nomination for president during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: (L-R) Marian Robinson, Malia Obama, Sasha Obama, First lady Michelle Obama and Second lady Dr. Jill Biden watch as Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

  • From left, Michelle Obama's mother Marian, Malia and Sasha Obama, their mother Michelle and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Biden, listen to President Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION

    US President Barack Obama as he delivers his acceptance to run for a second term as president at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 6, 2012 on the final day of the Democratic National Convention (DNC). AFP PHOTO Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION

    The First family welcomes US President Barack Obama as he delivers his acceptance to run for a second term as president at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 6, 2012 on the final day of the Democratic National Convention (DNC). From L-R, first row: Mother-in-law Marian Robinson, daughter Malia, daughter Sasha, First Lady Michelle Obama, Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden and Mrs.Obama's brother Craig Robinson (3rd R, second row). AFP PHOTO Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/GettyImages)

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    US President Barack Obama delivers his acceptance to run for a second term as president at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 6, 2012 on the final day of the Democratic National Convention (DNC). EDITORS NOTE: Image was shot with a tilt-shift lens. AFP PHOTO Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama claps on stage as he accepts the nomination for president during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on stage to accept the nomination for president during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on stage as he accepts the nomination for president during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on stage as he accepts the nomination for president during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION

    First daughters Malia (L) and Sasha (C) confer as US President Barack Obama delivers his acceptance to run for a second term as president at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 6, 2012 on the final day of the Democratic National Convention (DNC). AFP PHOTO Robyn BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/GettyImages)

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    First Lady Michelle Obama (R) looks over at daughters Malia (L) and Sasha (C) as US President Barack Obama delivers his acceptance to run for a second term as president at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 6, 2012 on the final day of the Democratic National Convention (DNC). AFP PHOTO Robyn BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/GettyImages)

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    First Lady Michelle Obama (2nd R) looks over at daughters Malia (L) and Sasha (C) as US President Barack Obama delivers his acceptance to run for a second term as president at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 6, 2012 on the final day of the Democratic National Convention (DNC). AFP PHOTO Robyn BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/GettyImages)

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on stage to accept the nomination for president during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on stage to accept the nomination for president during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on stage to accept the nomination for president during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on stage to accept the nomination for president during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on stage to accept the nomination for president during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on stage to accept the nomination for president during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

  • President Barack Obama applauds before his speech to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: (L-R) Malia Obama, Sasha Obama, and First lady Michelle Obama listen as Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: (L-R) Malia Obama, Sasha Obama, First lady Michelle Obama and Second lady Dr. Jill Biden watch as Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: First lady Michelle Obama hughs Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama hugs his wife First lady Michelle Obama during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama waves on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: (L-R) Malia Obama, Sasha Obama, and First lady Michelle Obama watch as Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama walks on stage to join First lady Michelle Obama during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama walks on stage to join First lady Michelle Obama during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama walks on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: First lady Michelle Obama introduces Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) speaks on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic vice presidential candidate, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden waves with his wife Second lady Dr. Jill Biden after speaking on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic vice presidential candidate, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden hugs his wife Second lady Dr. Jill Biden after speaking during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic vice presidential candidate, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

  • Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic vice presidential candidate, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

  • Vice President Joe Biden waves as he appears on stage to address the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/David Goldman)