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MSNBC re-signed Rachel Maddow to a contract worth $30 million per year this fall, a deal which confused many in media circles. It’s not that Maddow isn’t worth that salary to host a daily primetime show. She certainly is. What’s puzzling is that Maddow’s new contract allows her to leave her nightly show in favor of a weekly program in 2022, and $30 million for one show a week hardly adds up.
It turns out, MSNBC offered this contract out of desperation. MSNBC bid not only to keep Maddow attached to its brand, but also to keep her away from CNN.
A source told Puck News’ Matt Belloni that CNN’s Jeff Zucker had offered Maddow around $20 million to anchor the network’s upcoming streaming service, CNN+. CNN’s offer caused NBCUniversal “to scramble to promise her more money and less work to stay put, which she did.”
Losing Maddow to CNN+ would’ve been particularly problematic for NBC since its own streaming service, Peacock, ranks among the company’s top priorities. Hence why Maddow’s new deal includes an unspecified role with NBCUniversal, MSNBC’s parent company, which suggests a presence on Peacock. Remember, Maddow’s talent agent, Endeavor president Mark Shapiro, negotiated a similar linear and streaming contract extension for Stephen A. Smith in 2019 which kept him on ESPN along with a show on ESPN+.
Had she signed with CNN, Maddow likely would’ve had a linear show there as well. Those talks were noticeably left out of CNN’s statement, which confirmed to Puck News that Zucker tried to get Maddow “specifically for CNN+.” Clearly, CNN does not want its current anchors aware of how quickly it would’ve replaced them with Maddow. While CNN’s hosts share Maddow’s worldview, they lack her reach and influence.
Maddow also considered launching her own independent media company, one she could have then sold. Ultimately, Rachel Maddow held all the cards in her contract talks with MSNBC, which is why she landed a $30 million a year contract with an option to host four fewer days a week.
Looking ahead, CNN could make another run at Maddow before her contract expires after the 2024 election, a time when cable news networks will reassess their next four years. So expect Maddow to cash out again in three years.