MSNBC re-signed Rachel Maddow through the 2024 election for $30 million per year as the network begins its search for a succession plan. The Daily Beast reported Maddow’s salary figure on Wednesday.
The Rachel Maddow Show will continue to air weeknights at 9 pm ET until spring of 2022 when Maddow turns her attention to content producing and building with NBCUniversal. Then, as Maddow’s five-day-a-week show on MSNBC comes to an end, she will shift focus to a weekly program that will air 30 times a year.
A $30 million salary understandably disgusts the blue-collar working class. While you are manufacturing products in a sizzling shop, Maddow sits behind a teleprompter with a staff of yes men and links Donald Trump to Russia. However, to her credit, Maddow’s market value to MSNBC warranted a salary in that range. We explained previously that Maddow’s team of high-priced, fearsome agents would likely target the $25 million annual vicinity, the yearly value of Bill O’Reilly’s final contract with Fox News.
Maddow had an unusual amount of leverage over her employer. Obviously, right? MSNBC is more than doubling her salary and cutting her workload by more than 50%. Say that out loud.
Maddow’s leverage over MSNBC was twofold. First, she’s the biggest name in liberal media, and she draws around a million extra viewers in primetime. MSNBC viewers tune in when Maddow comes on — then tune out as she signs off. Maddow is singular in that way. In addition, MSNBC isn’t confident it has a sufficient heir to Maddow on its roster. NBCU is paying Maddow for her upcoming projects, a continued presence across its properties, and to buy time. The latter was chief among Maddow’s leverage points.
As you search through MSNBC’s bench and any plausible outside candidates, you quickly conclude that Maddow is as valuable to MSNBC as any single talent is to any network.
Should MSNBC stay in-house, its options are scarce. Barring a drastic change in America’s culture and media coverage, MSNBC will not air three men in primetime. MSNBC executives are high on Ari Melber, according to sources. However, it’s doubtful they are high on placing him between Chris Hayes and Lawrence O’Donnell, who respectively precede and follow Maddow in primetime. Therefore, Nicolle Wallace, Joy Reid, and Tiffany Cross are the most logical in-house replacement options. Though logical, none of the three are strong candidates.
Joy Reid is the most radical host on cable news. She’s also the most reckless. Her schtick is simple and ineffective. Joy Reid calls Republicans racist and hints at wild conspiracies in unscripted segments with guests. (See Reid tying Ron DeSantis to a sex trafficking ring.) Even for MSNBC, Reid is better hidden in pre-primetime, at 7 pm, to appease social media than placed front and center at 9 pm.
NBC’s top executives are behind Wallace. However, MSNBC just expanded her daily show by an hour this year. Wallace’s Deadline now airs from 4-6 pm ET. Re-shifting the lineup again without any certainty that Wallace can maintain Maddow’s reach is a costly risk. Wallace’s personality is also drier than that of most primetime hosts.
For her part, Tiffany Cross is still unknown to many MSNBC viewers. Her weekend program, The Cross Connection, has yet to make waves in the industry. Aside from calling Bill Maher an “angry white man,” of course. That always works.
In any of these three scenarios, MSNBC risks losing its market share in primetime to CNN. Could Chris Cuomo end up a winner in 2021? I hope not.
Even if MSNBC looks outside at social media darlings and Democrat politicians to replace Maddow, the network will find itself underwhelmed with the results.
See, liberal media produces transcendent stars only once an era. The genre isn’t in a position to make star personalities like conservatives do. Liberal viewers aren’t looking for a commanding presence on-air. It’s unclear what they want at all.
By contrast, conservative media is simple. There’s a blueprint. Conservative viewers want someone to provide an alternative to the mainstream media. GOP voters want someone to stand up for traditional American values that the press tells them are rooted in evil.
Meanwhile, left-wing media in primetime is merely an extension of ABC, NBC News, CBS, the New York Times, and — in recent years — social media. There’s minimal separation on an individual level. There was never a liberal Rush Limbaugh on radio. There’s not a left-wing counterpart to Ben Shapiro as a personality in podcasting. On the TV side, there have been two liberal superstars in primetime: Maddow and the deranged Keith Olbermann. With the decline in linear television, the rise of a third is in doubt.
Rachel Maddow’s contract negotiations thoroughly explain why networks are reluctant to let a singular name grow beyond its brand. Using MSNBC’s reach, Rachel Maddow built her own brand that doesn’t need a network. She only needs herself. Meanwhile, MSNBC became dependent on Maddow, desperate to hold onto her in any form.
Therein lies the reason MSNBC agreed to pay Rachel Maddow $30 million a year for a part-time schedule.