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MSNBC President Phil Griffin Signs Deal to Stay at Top of Surging Cable-News Outlet

Variety logo Variety 5/26/2017 Brian Steinberg
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Phil Griffin, who has led MSNBC from its previous Keith Olbermann heyday to a new surge led by Rachel Maddow, has extended his time at the head of the cable-news outlet in a new deal, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Griffin’s deal will keep him at the helm of the NBCUniversal-owned network as it is enjoying new strength.  For the week of May 15, the network snared the most viewers between 25 and 54 – the demographic most coveted by advertisers – and the largest audience overall in weekday primetime – the first time in MSNBC’s history that it has beaten both Fox News Channel and CNN in those categories. The ratings momentum comes after NBCUniversal has spent months moving much of MSNBC away from the progressive programming lens upon which it has depended for years, and focused instead on breaking-news – even during the primetime shows led by left-leaning hosts Chris Hayes, Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell. At the same time, the network has broadened its lineup of hosts, launching former anchor Greta van Susteren as well as Nicolle Wallace, the White House communications director under George W. Bush, in new hours.

“We have always been about depth and conversation and smarts and deep dives, really trying to understand something in a timeline that is complicated and changes from day to day,” said Griffin in a recent interview. “We are just better positioned, I think, than the other guys to attract big audiences and to figure out what’s going on.”

In the first quarter of 2017, MSNBC saw its 25-to-54 viewership rise 54% compared with the year-earlier period and increase 68% overall.

He is likely to be involved in MSNBC’s current challenge: trying to keep primetime anchor O’Donnell at the network. His contract runs out June 4, though a person familiar with the negotiations characterizes the talks as “productive and ongoing,” noting that the network “has made it clear” executives want the host to stay.

Griffin has spent decades in the TV-news business, overseeing NBC’s “Today” and working as a producer for Chris Matthews, among other roles. He has been with MSNBC since its July, 1996, launch. Prior to being named president in 2008, he spent three years as senior vice president at NBC News and worked as vice president of primetime programming for MSNBC. Among the programs he has produced are “Hardball with Chris Matthews,” “Internight,” a project that involved Tom Brokaw, Katie Couric, Bryant Gumbel and Bill Moyers; and “The Big Show with Keith Olbermann.” He also served as senior broadcast producer at “NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw.”

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