In New York, NBCUniversal chief Jeff Shell and his news deputy Cesar Conde continue to wrestle with their own existential crisis: What to do with an MSNBC that doesn’t include Rachel Maddow in primetime? Since the announcement of the blockbuster overall deal that will also serve to sunset The Rachel Maddow Show, the cable news network has also lost Brian Williams, which doesn’t make matters any easier.
The consensus among the smartest (and impartial) media executives I’ve spoken to is that MSNBC is completely screwed, though the word they most often use starts with an “F.” The company paid Maddow $30 million to stop doing her nightly show, and they have no one on the bench who is nearly as popular or influential. In lieu of any better option, the best available plan is to groom Nicolle Wallace for primetime, as I reported in September. Meanwhile, we have yet to see any evidence of a strategy at MSNBC other than playing the same game with lesser talent.
If you thought things couldn’t get worse for MSNBC, I’d like to introduce you to Joe Scarborough: the last remaining household name at MSNBC and someone who, in light of Maddow’s most recent payday, is now pursuing his own dramatic pay raise, according to sources familiar with the matter. Two sources close to Scarborough say he wants “$30 million plus $1″—in part because he wants to be the highest paid talent at MSNBC. Before you raise your voice to protest, given that Scarborough does not have nearly the same following as Maddow, I will remind you that at a Maddow-less MSNBC, a talent like Scarborough has all the leverage. I will also add that he is represented by Ari Emanuel and Mark Shapiro, the ruthless agents who negotiated Maddow’s deal and more or less have a stranglehold on MSNBC.
Scarborough and co-host/wife Mika Brzezinski are under contract for at least another year, but contracts don’t mean all that much when you have talent that’s threatening to walk. They can be torn up and rewritten. And so in the months ahead, Shell and Conde may be forced once again to pony up tens of millions to keep their talent from walking out the door.