MSNBC Stares Down the Maddow-pocalypse

Rachel Maddow Speaks At Harvard
Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images
Dylan Byers
September 22, 2021

Earlier this summer, Rachel Maddow went fishing—and learned how to tie new knots. During her absence, nearly one-third of her audience stopped watching her program, The Rachel Maddow Show, the cornerstone of MSNBC’s prime-time lineup. Ratings fell to 1.6 million on average, which is what her colleagues hope to get on a good night, but lousy when compared to her peerless performance over the years. Twice, her show even ceded the coveted 25-to-54 year-old demo to CNN’s Chris Cuomo

When Maddow finally came back, after what she described as the “first two-week vacation I have ever had in my whole life,” the audience came back with her. The dog days of MSNBC’s summer were over—or so it seemed. In retrospect, they may have been a harbinger of the challenge to come.

Shortly after her return, Maddow reached an eye-popping $30 million-a-year deal with NBCUniversal chief Jeff Shell that will extend her contract through the 2024 election, three sources with direct knowledge of the negotiations told me. The deal is an Obama-style overall pact that will allow her to produce content across NBCU’s various platforms. But there’s an important caveat: As part of the deal, Maddow has the option to end her nightly show as early as April 30, 2022, and work on other projects of her choosing, such as a weekly show, documentaries or specials—an option everyone close to the situation says she will almost certainly exercise. In other words, she will get paid a lot more to produce a lot less.