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Maddow gets own MSNBC show

Liberal commentator takes over 9 p.m. slot

MSNBC continues to lean to the left with its decision to tap liberal commentator Rachel Maddow as host of a nightly program to debut next month.

“The Rachel Maddow Show” is set to bow on Monday, Sept. 8, at 9 p.m., following the cabler’s primetime centerpiece, “Countdown With Keith Olbermann.” She will replace MSNBC vet Dan Abrams, who has held down the post-“Countdown” 9 p.m. slot since last summer, most recently as host of the legal news/analysis show “Verdict With Dan Abrams.”

MSNBC prexy Phil Griffin downplayed the suggestion that the cabler is consciously looking to become a lefty alternative to the conservative-leaning Fox News Channel.

“I don’t think that’s what she’s going to be,” Griffin told Daily Variety on Wednesday. “Keith has a strong point of view, and it succeeds. But she’s going to be her own person…Everyone wants to focus on the partisanship thing, but that’s not the idea here.”

Griffin pointed to Maddow’s academic credentials: a Rhodes Scholarship and Ph.D in political science from Oxford. MSNBC promises that Maddow’s show will feature interviews with people across the political spectrum, a decided difference from “Countdown.”

Maddow made her MSNBC debut in late 2005 as a commentator-cum-sparring partner to Tucker Carlson. She began sitting in on “Countdown” about a year ago and quickly became a fixture. This year’s protracted presidential-nomination season saw her clocking in across the net’s sked, appearing on Chris Matthews’ Beltway-based yakker “Hardball” and joining MSNBC’s roundtable coverage on primary nights.

On April 4, she turned heads at MSNBC when she served as a fill-in host for Olbermann for the first time.

“By that point, we knew she was smart, articulate — just made for television,” Griffin said. Maddow clinched her solo hosting gig after she spent a full week subbing for Olbermann in July while he was pressing the flesh at the Television Critics Assn. press tour in BevHills. “I was sold after that week,” Griffin said. “I knew she would get a show someday; I didn’t think it would be this quick. But Keith’s audience really connects with her.”

And it is no coincidence that Maddow will make her debut the week after the GOP holds its nominating convention in Minneapolis. (The Dems do their thing in Denver next week.)

“The next three months are our time,” Griffin said.

Maddow, 35, came to prominence through her daily Air America radio show, which has been a staple of the liberal radio net since 2004. Under the multiyear MSNBC deal, Maddow will continue with her New York-based radio show, airing weekdays at 6 p.m., then head cross-town to Rockefeller Center to go live on MSNBC.

Meanwhile, Abrams will continue in his role as NBC News’ chief legal correspondent and as an anchor for various MSNBC telecasts. Abrams, who served a 16-month stint as g.m. of MSNBC in 2006-07, is expected to up his presence on “Today” and “Dateline.”

“Putting my g.m. hat back on, I think this is absolutely the right call,” Abrams said of Maddow’s move into his time slot.

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