Rachel Maddow, MSNBC’s most-watched anchor, is considering leaving the network next year at the end of her contract, the latest in a wave of newsroom personnel rethinking their future after a torrid stretch spent covering the pandemic and the Trump administration.
Maddow, who has held forth on MSNBC at 9 p.m. since September of 2008, when she used to follow Keith Olbermann, is in the midst of discussing whether she wants to stay at the NBCUniversal-owned network for another term, according to people familiar with the matter. Maddow, who is being counseled in talks by Mark Shapiro, president of the large Endeavor talent-representation holding company, as well as Ari Emanuel, the company’s CEO, is mulling work-life balance and other possible media ventures as she considers her next steps, these people said.
Maddow’s negotiations were previously reported by The Daily Beast. MSNBC declined to comment on any talks its executives might be having with the anchor and her representatives.
“Nothing has been decided,” Shapiro said in a statement provided by Endeavor. “We are deep into it with NBCUniversal and Rachel has an excellent relationship with them.”
Getting Maddow to stay will no doubt be a top priority for Rashida Jones, who took over as president of MSNBC in February. Maddow had long enjoyed a close professional relationship with Jones’ predecessor, Phil Griffin. That executive told Variety in 2016 that Maddow was “the Steph Curry of our primetime lineup.” Indeed, it’s not clear that MSNBC has an immediate substitute for Maddow, though it has launched a bevy of new “perspective” hosts in recent months, including Mehdi Hassan, Jonathan Capehart, Joshua Johnson and Alicia Mendez. Ali Velshi has served as a frequent fill-in host for MSNBC’s primetime anchors.
Maddow is said to be interested in the possibilities of streaming or podcasting, according to people familiar with the situation, and, internally at MSNBC, there has long been a thought the anchor might consider stepping away from her show after the 2020 election. She has found success in other ventures, such as “Bag Man,” a seven-episode podcast series centered on the story of former U.S. Vice President Spiro Agnew. MSNBC in 2018 featured her documentary special, “Betrayal,” which focused on the darker side of the 1968 election and how President Nixon seemed willing to collude with a foreign government to win it. She is also the author of “Blowout,” a book that examines the effects of the oil and gas industries on the world.
One of the challenges Maddow faces in continuing with her program is the number of hours she puts into its preparation. She is known to hold rigorous meetings with her producers, trying to nail down such details as what kind of cheese went missing from a semi-trailer in Germantown, Wisconsin, or the plot of the 2014 film “Kingsman: The Secret Service.” “The best part of the story might be a very small detail,” the host told Variety in 2016.
In the second quarter, Maddow’s program reached an average of 2.6 million viewers, topping CNN’s “Cuomo Prime Time,” but falling behind Fox News Channel’s “Hannity,” according to figures from Nielsen.
The TV-news business has seen a parade of defections in recent weeks, as anchors and producers try to find more time for their personal lives or try their hands at new opportunities. NBC News has seen several personnel leave, including Capitol Hill correspondent Kasie Hunt, who is set to join CNN as an anchor on its new streaming service, CNN Plus. Jenn Suozzo, the executive producer of “NBC Nightly News,” is expected to join CNN in a senior role at that new business. Sally Shin, recently a senior editor at NBC News, left to join United Masters, a music-technology company. ABC News will in a few weeks see the departure of Dan B. Harris, the weekend co-anchor at “Good Morning America,’ as he seeks to devote time to a meditation business he has developed.
In an era when cable news has come under scrutiny for being more polarizing and partisan, Maddow may seek a calmer venue. Behind the trappings of the anchor desk, she has a doctorate in political science from Oxford University. She told Variety in 2016 that “you can get a general American cable-news audience to graduate school,” but only if a report is rooted in the facts — and lots of them. “I do think if you are good enough at expository writing and the use of visual elements, you can get to an incredibly intense level of detail, and have people really get it,” she said. “But you have to be good at it.”