A few minutes before 11 p.m. on Aug. 25, Rachel Maddow was sitting behind a desk in a double-decker, alfresco television studio her television network, MSNBC, had erected near the old train tracks that cut through downtown Denver, from which Ms. Maddow was to punditize to the public from the near environs of the Democratic National Convention.
“It should be noted that this is a four-night infomercial,” she said.
The heat of the afternoon sun had long before dissipated and a mild breeze blew across the city. After four hours of live television, Ms. Maddow and her colleagues at MSNBC were looking sun-tired as they wrapped their coverage of the opening night of the Democratic convention.
Moments earlier, from the convention floor, Brian Williams had joked that nobody was left in the Pepsi Center’s main hall except the people who were picking up the trash.
At a signal from behind the camera, Nora O’Donnell kicked the broadcast back to Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews, who signed off. Ms. Maddow bounded off the stage and walked toward the perimeter barriers of her makeshift TV set; the passersby and MSNBC fans had been gathering there throughout the day to gawk at the cable news fauna at close range, like they were in some kind of nature park, and for the holdouts this was their payoff. For the next several minutes, Ms. Maddow was shaking hands, signing autographs and posing for some cell-phone pictures while others were being taken clandestinely.
After 15 minutes of this, a publicist sidled up to let her know that her car service had arrived. Time for the gang to head back to the hotel.
Ms. Maddow accepted one last congratulatory handshake from MSNBC’s president, Phil Griffin; rounded the corner of the set; and broke into a big smile. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” said Ms. Maddow, sizing up her ride home. An enormous, cream-colored limousine awaited. It was a stretch Escalade.
Those remaining on set chuckled and moved closer.
“It’s got a light carbon footprint,” somebody yelled.
Keith Olbermann took photos as the massive, tricked-out partymobile swallowed the MSNBC political panel whole: Michelle Bernard and Eugene Robinson, Pat Buchanan and Rachel Maddow.
The inside of the stretch Escalade had the pundits in stitches. There were Champagne glasses, leather seats, tinted windows, disco lights, and outrageously cheesy, curvy everything. “It’s like Battlestar Galactica in here,” said Ms. Maddow. “This is how MSNBC rolls out.”
Ms. Maddow leaned back. It had been a good night of television. But the live crowd had confounded her. How do you treat them? If they yell your name, do you respond? If you respond, do you do it on the air or off? At one point, the crowd behind Ms. Maddow had booed McCain surrogate Nicolle Wallace. Instinctively, Ms. Maddow had turned around and encouraged them to clap instead. But it was awkward. What’s the right strategy, she wondered?
Shortly after dawn on Monday morning, some 18 hours earlier, Ms. Maddow had woken up at the Cherry Creek Hotel, in a quiet neighborhood in central Denver. She showered and threw on a pair of jeans and an untucked button-down short-sleeve shirt. Downstairs, she ordered an omelet. The egg guy was cool. He was a skateboarder, and he dug Ms. Maddow’s sneakers.