Rachel Maddow: How This Wonky-Tonk Woman Won TV

Marisa Guthrie
The Hollywood Reporter

"Thank you for coming," says Rachel Maddow to a visiting reporter. "Why are we doing this?"

It's the last Friday in September, and we are walking briskly -- at 5-foot-11, Maddow always moves at a near-jog -- toward the elevator on the fourth floor of her office at NBC's 30 Rockefeller Plaza headquarters.

The MSNBC host is somewhat bemused and clearly curious as to why her visitor is here today. Attention is not something she seeks out or is entirely comfortable with, which may sound disingenuous for someone in an industry thick with titanic egos. But she does not view her show as a glamour perch; something to be parlayed into superficial celebrity friendships or hosting gigs at star-stuffed charity events.

"I don't value a TV show for the sake of having a TV show," explains Maddow. "The idea was to do something cool with a platform that reaches a lot of people."

The Rachel Maddow Show, which was launched after Countdown With Keith Olbermann in the midst of the wild and woolly 2008 presidential campaigns, is now the No. 1 program on MSNBC, which has surpassed CNN in primetime for eight consecutive quarters (but still lags behind Fox News). In September, The Rachel Maddow Show earned its first Emmy -- in the inaugural category of news discussion and analysis -- for her reporting from Afghanistan. If she is still worried about reaching lots of people, her upcoming cameo in George Clooney's  Oscar-contending The Ides of March shows that her profile is expanding well beyond wonky news circles.           

MSNBC executives are banking on Maddow (along with fellow hosts including Lawrence O'Donnell, Ed Schultz and most recently Al Sharpton) to expand the network's brand in a way that has momentum beyond the current political season. Unlike Fox News -- which is still the main cable news destination for Americans from the center to the far right -- or CNN -- which sees its ratings spike with big breaking news events -- MSNBC's fortunes are tied to its primetime personalities. And Maddow is its marquee personality.

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