The 2009 Creativity 50: Rachel Maddow

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If there was ever a segment of media in need of reinvention it's Big News punditry. Over the course of a long election, as America was energized by the change zeitgeist, cable news talking heads did their best to justify their existence, at best adding little of substance to a critical debate and, at worst, dragging down public discourse at the time when it most needed to be lifted. Things took a turn for the refreshing when MSNBC debuted The Rachel Maddow Show in August last year. Maddow had subbed for colleague Keith Olbermann several times earlier in the year and the voluble Countdown host backed her for a new 9 p.m. show to follow his own. Soon it was a case of the grasshopper snatching the pebble from the master—Maddow's ratings have eclipsed Olbermann's at several points since her show launched (and she's also beaten Larry King in the 25-54 demo).

The appeal? Though much has been made of the fact that Maddow is the first openly gay cable news host, and, in outlook and appearance, very unlike a brittle Fox blonde, the show feels unique because of the tone and tenor of its content. Maddow manages a level of cheek and irony without descending into either vapidity or doctrinaire aggression (one of our fave Maddow moments was her reasoned yet decisive on-air spankingof cranky Canadian David Frum). Sure, we might share Maddow's liberal lean, but her commentary most often just sounds like good sense and sophisticated parsing of issues, rather than partisan playbook recitation—proving that a hard-core policy geek can be accessible, funny... human. A Rhodes scholar with a doctorate of philosophy in political science, Maddow was an AIDS activist and then a talk radio personality (she's still on Air America) before becoming a TV commentator and then host. Her rise has a grassrootsy feel—she's been a consistent online presence through her career and is now a hands on Twitterer (oh, and her hobby? Booze). Change we can believe in? Hell yes.

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