LOS ANGELES - Rachel Maddow had never read a teleprompter before she filled in for Keith Olbermann on his MSNBC talk show last summer.
The talking part was easy. Her career in radio made that a snap. Learning the mechanics of television created what Maddow calls “a very fun trip up a very steep learning curve.”
She learned well. In a matter of months, Maddow made the leap from fill-in host to having her own self-titled talk series on the cable channel. “The Rachel Maddow Show” is her platform to talk about everything from the president to pirates.
MSNBC boasts Maddow has become the network’s first program to beat CNN talker Larry King in more than a dozen years.
Maddow had been hosting her own show for just over four months when she sat down to talk at the Universal Hilton. This wasn’t a chat about politics. It’s all about her.
She says being the host of a daily television talk show “is really hard work” but it is “the best job I’ve ever had by a mile.” Those other jobs that are taking second place to the TV work include stints on local radio in Holyoke, Mass., and Northampton, Mass. Her bio mentions she worked for a jungle-themed company called Expresso Bongo. It is a job she doesn’t talk about.
The Castro Valley, Calif., native went from local to national exposure through Air America Radio. She started on “Unfiltered” with Lizz Winstead and Chuck D. That quickly led to her own radio show.
MSNBC, as was the case with Air America, gives Maddow the chance to add a rare liberal voice to the dominant conservative chatter that fills cable talk shows.
“Air America Radio was founded because there was nothing on talk radio that was not either sports, religious, or right-wing politics. There was no other form of politics in talk radio forever,” Maddow says. “And getting that platform gave me a chance to get really good at talk radio. And I think getting good at talk radio was a great place to prep for being a good guest on TV. And prepping to be a good guest on TV ultimately prepped me to be a good sub-host.
“And prepping me to be a good sub-host got me to where I am now.”
Phil Griffin, the President of MSNBC, describes Maddow as one of the hardest-working, smartest and most delightful people with which he has worked.
One of the things she learned along the way was many television talk shows love to invite those with polar opposite views to come to the table, no matter what the topic. She calls it “boxing masquerading as news.”
Maddow knew the one thing she did not want to do on her show was set up such verbal fights. Her intent is for those watching to actually learn something from the exchange of ideas.
“I want to have there be a reason that we’ve taken up that time on this precious broadcast medium that we’ve got. I certainly have give-and-take with my guests. But it’s going to be one-on-one. It’s going to be civil. I’m not going to tell anybody to shut up unless they say something about my mom or something else that I can’t control myself about,” Maddow says. “But other than that, it’s the way that I want to take in information.”
There is some irony that she landed her own television program were she can express liberal views just as a new administration took over in Washington, D.C.
Maddow’s not concerned. She’s convinced there is no risk of idiocy going out of fashion in the nation’s capital.
“So wherever there are bad ideas, I will find ways to make fun of them,” Maddow says. “Sometimes, that’s going to be bad Democratic ideas. It’s going to be bad Republican ideas. It’s just going to be bad ideas.
“So I don’t worry about not having George Bush to beat up on anymore.”