MSNBC Chief Phil Griffin Re-Ups Amid Historic Ratings

Phil Griffin - 2014 THR 35 Power Media - Getty - H 2017
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The network recently beat both Fox News and CNN in the key demo for a week.

Phil Griffin, the longtime president of MSNBC, has signed a new contract to remain at the cable news network, a source with knowledge of the deal tells The Hollywood Reporter.

The news comes as MSNBC has seen its fortunes rise because of its coverage of the early chaotic days of the Trump administration. To be sure, all three of the top cable news networks were up in the first quarter of the year. But MSNBC has bested even perennial leader Fox News Channel in the all-important 25-54 demographic during primetime in recent days. And The Rachel Maddow Show has been the No. 1 cable news program since March.

Griffin was named president of MSNBC in 2008 and has been at the network since its inception more than 20 years ago. He started as Chris Matthews’ producer on Hardball and also did a stint with Keith Olbermann. He is known to have close relationships with network talent including Maddow, whose show has long been the network’s linchpin. And while Andrew Lack, chairman of NBC News and MSNBC, has set about transforming MSNBC’s daytime programming from opinion and talk to news and headlines, the network's primetime lineup of Chris Hayes, Maddow and Lawrence O'Donnell has remained stable.

It was only a few years ago — in 2014 — that MSNBC hit a ratings nadir. The downturn came in the waning days of the Obama administration, and many opinionated hosts were subsequently jettisoned, including much of the cast of afternoon show The Cycle, Ed Schultz and Melissa Harris-Perry, who left the network last year after a public dust-up over editorial control of her show, among other issues.

More recently, MSNBC has added additional conservative voices including radio host Hugh Hewitt and Washington Post columnist George Will, who did a stint at Fox News. Hewitt is expected to get his own weekend program. Nicolle Wallace, a former staffer in the administration of George W. Bush and adviser on John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, now hosts the 4 p.m. hour.

There had been some speculation about Griffin’s future at the network, with some news reports suggesting a rift with Lack, which has been denied by multiple NBC News sources. That narrative materialized after O'Donnell's contract negotiations — or lack thereof, according to some reports — went public a few weeks ago. O’Donnell, whose show is the No. 2 program on the network, obliquely confirmed reports that the network was not negotiating with him, despite the fact that his deal comes up for renewal in early June, by tweeting on May 17: "Contract expires June 4. I'll let you know where you can watch me June 5 if it's not msnbc. I'm sorry this situation has become public."

NBC News sources disputed those accounts. And one well-placed source told THR recently that O'Donnell also is expected to sign a deal to remain at MSNBC.