MSNBC may lose the star of its highest-rated program, as numerous sources say Rachel Maddow is considering cutting ties with the network and launching her own streaming media venture when her contract expires early next year. But others are raising questions about the timing of the notice, which comes during heated negotiations with the left-wing cable news network.
Maddow, whose show anchors the network’s prime-time lineup, may start her own podcasting and streaming service to escape “the toll of hosting a nightly program since 2008,” the website reports.
CNN’s Brian Stelter seemed to confirm the rumors on Thursday, tweeting that the “Daily Beast beat me to this one — I’ve been hearing the same and was working on a story about it.”
Daily Beast beat me to this one — I’ve been hearing the same and was working on a story about it 👀 https://t.co/hHSyexsaTx
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) August 12, 2021
If true, Maddow’s departure would prove devastating to MSNBC in the short term. Her show has served as the network’s ratings tent-pole for years.
The “Rachel Maddow Show” regularly makes the top five shows in prime time, the only offering at either MSNBC or CNN to do so — usually in the third or fourth spot behind “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” “Hannity,” and “The Five.”
No other personality in the left-wing cable news network’s primetime schedule approaches her popularity. Joy Reid, the host of “The ReidOut,” had the lowest ratings in the show’s history last week, attracting 1.1 million total viewers — about half of Maddow’s typical audience. Maddow’s lead-in, “All in with Chris Hayes” at 8 p.m. Eastern, saw its audience contract to 1.2 million people, its lowest level in 55 months.
And with Rachel Maddow on vacation last week, her show reached its smallest audience since December 2015.
“It has not been lost on network higher-ups that MSNBC does not have an immediate or obvious successor if Maddow chooses to leave,” the Beast reports.
The question facing most analysts is whether this is an honest expression of fatigue or a strong-arm negotiating tactic.
Maddow, who rose rapidly from Massachusetts radio to be the face of MSNBC, has long been open about the pressure and wear inherent in hosting a daily program. She told The New York Times in 2019 that, while she has no aversion to long hours, “it’s not good to work incessant long days, five days a week, 50 weeks a year for 10 years.”
On the other hand, Maddow recently hired a more aggressive team to represent her in contract negotiations with MSNBC’s parent company, NBCUniversal. And the desire to “spend time with family” is the most shopworn excuse in politics.
Maddow jettisoned Napoli Management Group in favor of Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel and President Mark Shapiro, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Talks have since gotten “heated,” two sources told The Daily Beast. “Nothing has been decided,” Shapiro told the website. “We are deep into it with NBCUniversal, and Rachel has an excellent relationship with them.”
But Maddow’s purported desire to leave the network leaked out shortly after the shake-up, and the news made the show business Bible, Variety magazine.
“Is this on the level, or is Maddow playing hardball with MSNBC in contract negotiations?” asked Ed Morrissey of HotAir.com.
Maddow currently earns $7 million a year and has an estimated net worth of $25 million, according to multiple sources. She reportedly wants more time off and greater scheduling flexibility.
Has the far-Left host suddenly discovered the virtues of entrepreneurship? While Maddow has a firm grip on the “MSNBC Moms” who form the core of her audience — and some independent media ventures, like Glenn Beck’s BlazeTV, do work out — most attract only a fraction of their former network audience.
“If she wants to see how that path works, she can just cast a glance at the career of her former mentor Keith Olbermann and see how well he’s done in the podcast/self-publication space,” wrote Morrissey.
Whatever the truth, the prospect of losing Maddow’s star quality has instilled fear at every level of the network. NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell and NBCUniversal News Group Chair Cesar Conde “remain focused on retaining her, and are gearing up to offer her a major contract extension in order to do so,” The Daily Beast reported.
And at least one of her fellow MSNBC personalities burst into an unprompted moment of praise on the air Thursday night.
“You are our North Star,” Ali Velshi, who guest-hosted “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell,” gushed. “You are revered and respected, and I am not alone in saying that. I speak for my colleagues when I say I appreciate you.”
A clearly moved Maddow replied, “You’re going to make me cry without even explaining why?” Velshi said the praise came from his recent experience guest-hosting her show. “I know that your viewers do because, when I was sitting in that chair for a few weeks, they wanted me to make sure you knew that.”
“You are very, very kind,” Maddow replied, her eyes welling up with tears. “I have to go now.”