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Rachel Maddow is staying at MSNBC — but not in the same role she has held for the past thirteen years.
Maddow has signed a new multi-year deal with MSNBC’s parent NBCUniversal, as Insider’s Claire Atkinson first reported on Sunday. Mark Shapiro of Endeavor, the talent agency that repped Maddow in the negotiation, told Atkinson that Maddow “is staying home where she belongs with a much broader deal at NBCUniversal and couldn’t be happier.”
The agreement means that she will continue to host “The Rachel Maddow Show” weeknights at 9pm ET for the time being. But that’s not the long-term plan. The five-day-a-week show will come to an end sometime next year as Maddow shifts gears to more of a weekly format, according to two sources with knowledge of the deal.
Atkinson alluded to this on Sunday when she wrote, “Shapiro would not comment further and declined to say how much Maddow would be paid, saying only she would have more scheduling flexibility and will be expanding on her ideas.” More “scheduling flexibility” is a key component of the new contract.
When I called other sources to discuss this info, I was told that nothing is set in stone, and “The Rachel Maddow Show” is not going anywhere. A source familiar with the matter said that “her schedule isn’t changing.” But others said that Maddow will pull back from her daily program at some point, which will allow her to concentrate on other productions.
“A much broader deal”
The key words in Shapiro’s statement were “a much broader deal.” Multiple sources confirmed that Maddow’s new contract will entail developing new projects across NBCU. This sounds like a news business version of the entertainment showrunner deals that have proliferated across Hollywood.
And, critically, Maddow’s agreement is not limited to news. NBCU’s Focus Features is already working on a feature film version of “Bag Man,” based on Maddow’s podcast and book of the same name. Maddow has many more ideas for dramas and other projects. One source described this as an “Endeavor-sized deal,” in a nod to Shapiro and Ari Emanuel’s agency. And it’s easy to see why it was a win-win: A production deal across NBC’s businesses kept Maddow at MSNBC and made it easier to justify an eight-figure payday.
Here’s how Ben Mullin described it for the WSJ: The deal expands the scope of her portfolio at NBCU, “giving her the freedom to pursue a range of formats including film and TV series, according to a person familiar with the matter. Ms. Maddow is starting her own production company that will bring its potential projects to NBCUniversal first.” In other words, a first-look deal…
Maddow is the linchpin of MSNBC
She is the “bedrock of the channel’s primetime lineup,” as THR’s Alex Weprin wrote. Just look at last month’s cable news scoreboard. Maddow averaged 2.3 million viewers, making her MSNBC’s most popular host by a mile. The host who follows her, Lawrence O’Donnell, averaged 1.5 million. Maddow defines the MSNBC brand more than any single host on CNN or, I’d even argue, Fox News.
With her contract coming up for renewal, Maddow was aware of several viable alternatives, and took a close look at them, as The Daily Beast reported earlier this month. But NBCU simply could not afford to lose her.
This is where “scheduling flexibility” came into play. Among Maddow’s friends and associates, it’s no secret that she has mixed feelings about the grind of a live nightly program. A regular presence on TV gives Maddow relevancy — but also back pains. The Beast’s story about her contract talks pointed out that she “has occasionally dropped hints about professional burnout.” She told the NYT in 2019, “I’m realizing now — 10, 11 years into this — that it’s fine to work long days. But it’s not good for you to work incessant long days, five days a week, 50 weeks a year for 10 years.”
She has vacation days, of course. But at some point, she is going to shift gears. That’s the story behind the story of this mega-deal. And as Variety’s Brian Steinberg wrote Sunday, “the network has no clear successor for her program.”
About all this, an MSNBC spokesperson declined to comment. After all, the network isn’t even confirming her new deal on the record…
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