Rachel Maddow has been MSNBC’s most high-profile on-air personality for more than a decade, long embodying the network’s liberal ethos and raking in an obsessive following for her nightly primetime broadcast.
But when MSNBC viewers tune in next year, she may not be there.
According to six people familiar with the situation, Maddow, 48, is seriously considering leaving the network when her contract ends early next year as negotiations drag on and the temptation to take her brand elsewhere or start her own lucrative media company has grown.
Insiders who spoke with The Daily Beast said while the star host has occasionally entertained other offers in the past, she has in recent months increasingly expressed openness to exiting when her deal ends, citing a desire to spend more time with her family and the toll of hosting a nightly program since 2008.
Maddow seems unlikely to jump to a rival television news network. Instead, she has been intrigued by opportunities in the streaming and podcasting space, which would allow her more freedom, time for her personal life, and for other projects, people familiar with her thinking said.
The high-profile TV host has gotten aggressive in exploring her next career moves: In recent months, she left her longtime agents at Napoli Management Group, linking up with powerful talent agency Endeavor and its CEO Ari Emanuel and president Mark Shapiro, who are representing her in contract negotiations with NBCUniversal.
“Nothing has been decided. We are deep into it with NBCUniversal and Rachel has an excellent relationship with them,” Shapiro told The Daily Beast. “We don’t comment on employee matters,” MSNBC spokesperson Lorie Acio wrote by email.
Former MSNBC president Phil Griffin, who left the network earlier this year and has a close relationship with both Maddow and Emanuel, has been consulted about the situation as negotiations have grown “heated” and has offered advice, according to two people with direct knowledge of the matter.
Maddow has occasionally dropped hints about professional burnout. During her Monday evening broadcast, she informed viewers that a two-week break she took earlier this month was the longest vacation she’s taken in her entire life. And during a 2019 interview with The New York Times, Maddow said she realized that between writing a book and hosting her show, she barely has any time to herself.
“I’m realizing now—10, 11 years into this—that it’s fine to work long days,” she told the Times. “But it’s not good for you to work incessant long days, five days a week, 50 weeks a year for 10 years.”
Maddow’s decision may represent the first major test for new network president Rashida Jones, who replaced Griffin earlier this year and took the reins at a somewhat precarious moment for the left-leaning cable network.
Sources told The Daily Beast that MSNBC is taking major steps to keep Maddow on board. People briefed on the matter say NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell and NBCUniversal News Group chair Cesar Conde also remain focused on retaining her, and are gearing up to offer her a major contract extension in order to do so. One idea higher-ups have floated includes a reduced schedule to accommodate Maddow’s desire to lighten her hosting load.
In the 12 years she’s occupied the 9 p.m. slot, Maddow’s success has reoriented the network’s programming around her show and on-air tenor. For years, the 8 p.m. slot hosted by Maddow’s bombastic mentor Keith Olbermann was seen as the coveted airspace on the network. But following his acrimonious departure, Maddow emerged as the face of the network—the wonky, chipper, and loquacious Obama-era antithesis of Olbermann’s fire and brimstone screeds. And thanks to her dogged coverage of the Trump era, Maddow has forged a unique connection with the MSNBC audience, spawning a class of viewer dubbed the “MSNBC Mom” (earlier this month, fill-in host Ari Melber aired a viral TikTok in which one such viewer expressed frustration with how Maddow hadn’t been on the air for weeks).
MSNBC has been hard hit by the ratings plunge that has befallen the cable networks in the months following Trump’s exit from the White House. But Maddow is coming off some of the best years of her career in terms of viewership. Her ratings skyrocketed following Trump’s 2016 electoral victory, and haven’t let up much since. She remains the highest-rated host at the network, forming a major ballast for MSNBC's primetime lineup that consistently beats all shows at CNN and occasionally outpaces top primetime hosts at Fox News.
It has not been lost on network higher-ups that MSNBC does not have an immediate or obvious successor if Maddow chooses to leave.
While insiders said even the discussion of replacements was premature, many doubted MSNBC would replace her with 10 p.m. anchor Lawrence O’Donnell, whom network executives almost sent packing several years ago amid tense contract negotiations that spilled out into public view. And 8 p.m. host Chris Hayes, who was described for years as a Maddow protégé, has also never managed to rack up major viewership numbers in the hour leading into her show.