Rachel Maddow Extends MSNBC Contract (Exclusive)

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MSNBC has extended Rachel Maddow’s contract in a new multi-year deal that will keep the primetime host at the cable news network well beyond the 2012 presidential election.

The announcement is expected to come Tuesday at the network's portion of the semi-annual Television Critics Association press tour in Los Angeles.

The news comes as MSNBC has already locked in many staffers and longtime contributors with contract extensions, a response to overtures from erstwhile MSNBC host Keith Olbermann, who abruptly left MSNBC last January. Maddow's previous contract was not set to expire until next year.

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Olbermann, whose Countdown launched MSNBC's slate of primetime opinion hosts (Maddow was a frequent  substitute anchor on Countdown), relaunched his show on Current last June. He attempted to lure many MSNBC staffers and on-air contributors to Current and was successful in landing Michael Moore.

But MSNBC locked in many others including The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson and Ezra Klein as well as Chris Hayes, Washington editor of The Nation. Hayes, a frequent substitute anchor for Maddow, begins hosting weekend mornings on MSNBC Sept. 17. The network is also in active negotiations with Al Sharpton to host the 6 p.m. hour.

In interviews to publicize the launch of Countdown on Current, Olbermann made no secret of his desire to work with Maddow again. And his public statements about hiring her away from MSNBC irked executives there, say sources. By extending her contract, MSNBC seals her status as the face of the network and also puts any speculation about Maddow’s future to rest.

Maddow said she has not spoken to Olbermann since he left MSNBC. And in typical self-deprecating fashion, she disputed the charactirization that she is the “face” of MSNBC.

“I don’t think we’re a one-face network," she said. "I actually think we have a mutually supportive and pretty cohesive atmosphere. I think that we’re working together well. We internally compete for ratings and bookings and all that stuff but it’s mutually supportive. So I like it. It’ s a fun place to work.”

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Nevertheless, Maddow's new deal certainly underscores her significance to MSNBC as the network continues to groom new on-air personalities. For the first six months of the year, The Rachel Maddow Show averaged 1.05 million viewers with 305,000 among news’ target demographic of viewers 25-to-54. That marks an increase in the demo of 23 percent year-over-year. Maddow regularly bests CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight at 9 p.m. though Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity is still the top-rated cable news program in the hour.

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