A wide ranging profile of Rachel Maddow was published in Vanity Fair this past weekend—and it represents the longtime cable news host’s first interview since it was announced that she would be stepping away from her five-night-a-week MSNBC program.
Topics discussed by VF’s Joe Pompeo and Maddow include her widely-covered new contract with NBCUniversal and how it came to pass, her thoughts on Tucker Carlson, the late Roger Ailes and the future of cable news in general.
Last fall, Maddow and her new agents from Endeavor negotiated a reported $30 million annually to scale back her on-air MSNBC primetime duties from daily to weekly—and do more premium long-form projects with NBCUniversal: documentaries and streaming specials, to movies and books—all under the banner of her new independent production company: Surprise Inside.
Did Maddow think NBCU would give her everything she wanted with this new proposed deal. She told Pompeo “no,” adding, “I don’t know anybody who’s ever asked for it … It’s potentially higher risk, higher reward, right? It’s probably a better deal for [NBC] in the long run than just doing TRMS—and killing myself and not being able to do anything and—having a shorter career because I’m burning myself out. Like, I’m not becoming a painter.”
It was previously reported that Maddow and her representatives were courted by Jeff Zucker and CNN for a potential role at the now-defunct CNN+. Pompeo adds some new reporting in regards to Maddow’s suitors before she ultimately re-upped with NBCU:
They talked to Netflix. They talked to Amazon. They talked to Spotify, Showtime, CNN. Jeff Zucker, president of CNN at the time, toyed with the idea of hiring Maddow for the network’s ill-fated streaming service, CNN+. The brass surmised that having Maddow, from a liberal network and Chris Wallace, from conservative Fox News, would give the platform a certain range. But Maddow’s agents balked at the proposed salary, in the $10 to $15 million range, according to people who know the numbers. There was a much bigger opportunity on the table: SiriusXM was poised to offer Maddow closer to $40 million plus a first-look deal, sources told me. (Sirius had no comment.) The idea was that she could do a weekday talk show and still pursue all of her other creative projects. This wouldn’t free Maddow from the daily grind, but it was a tempting proposition. She had a lot to think about.
On Carlson, who Maddow has known going back to his MSNBC days, she remarked, “Tucker’s doing great right now … but look at Tucker’s career. The first show I worked on was his 11 o’clock show on MSNBC that nobody remembers. But he was always kicking around the business and has always been talented. It just—this turned out to be his moment.”
While she vehemently disagrees with Carlson’s and fellow Fox News primetime’s politics, Maddow talks about him and other cable news rivals as fellow practitioners, throwing out baseball terms. Pompeo writes”
“If you think about baseball players,” she said, “who are extremely competitive and who are fighting to win and who have rivalries—and some of those rivalries are bitter rivalries—that doesn’t mean you don’t study the pitching technique of their star pitcher. It doesn’t mean you don’t appreciate whatever they’re doing in terms of, you know, where they put their shortstop in order to give them a better defense. There’s a sort of, like, respecting the game, in terms of people who are doing well and people who are good at it. I mean that was the basis of my professional friendship with Roger Ailes. I wanted tips from him about how to be better on TV. And he was willing to talk to me about what I was doing well—and doing poorly—to help me get better.”
Maddow also brought more things she’s working under her Surprise Inside production umbrella. They include a second podcast (in addition to the award-winning Bagman) another book, two potential movies and TV shows.
What’s the premise of her new TV project? It’s scripted and “It revolves around a group of women in post–World War II America in Washington, D.C.,” NBCU TV entertainment boss Susan Rovner told VF.” Rovner added there’s a decent chance the show could air in 2023 on Peacock.