Rachel Maddow courtesy MSNBC
Cable news personalities usually take a while to catch on in the ratings, but not MSNBC's Rachel Maddow. Since her show debuted on Sept. 8, she's been a strong competitor in the 9 p.m. hour, topping CNN's Larry King Live on some nights and often building on her audience lead-in from Countdown with Keith Olbermann. Only nine years ago, she was an activist and Rhodes Scholar turned morning show sidekick in Holyoke, Mass. Now she's a major participant in the national dialogue taking place each day on 24-hour cable news. The Biz recently stopped by her office at NBC News to talk about her rapid rise.

TVGuide.com: After you established yourself as a TV talking head you were pretty outspoken about wanting to have a show of your own.
Rachel Maddow:
Which apparently is rude - or is at least not what people do. It was like when Joe Biden was asked if he would like to be vice president. He was like "Yeah! I'd love to be vice president!" You're not supposed to say it that way. I sort of feel like I did the same thing. I wanted to host because I wanted the opportunity to decide what I talked about rather than to just be booked on whatever and have the producer or host decide what I ought to talk about. The thing that is immensely rewarding to me about hosting a radio show all these years (on Air America) is looking at the universe that is the news of the day and deciding what it is I have to say about it. Story selection and editorial decisions are intellectually and emotionally gratifying to me. I wanted to do that in TV.

TVGuide.com: For a long time it seemed that heated exchanges were required if you wanted to succeed in prime time cable news. You have a reputation for being nice. And even when you make a smartass remark on the air, there's no edge there. You're still likable. How are you able to do that?
I don't watch cable news, so I don't know how I am different from other people. In terms of how I'm feeling about the stuff I'm talking about, I think this is the best job in the whole world. I'm enjoying myself even when I am disagreeing with the person who I'm on with.

TVGuide.com: You've said you haven't owned a TV since 1990.
It comes from a constitutional weakness. I don't choose to not watch television because I'm trying to do this intellectual experiment. If it's on, I can't do anything.

TVGuide.com: How do you get your head into what America thinks about without watching television?
I'm not a 17-year-old kid who exists on Twitter. But I am of a generation where a lot of people don't consume TV in a way that older people consume TV. We consume clips. We look at things on TiVo. I look at video on the Web and I read. I read all day. I think the way that I prep gives me a great basis for making TV. I don't consume other TV so you don't see common TV wisdom regurgitated.

TVGuide.com: How do you feel you're different from Keith Olbermann?
He has championed me on this network in a way that I am grateful for. He's been an influence, a mentor and a sweetheart. We overlap in our political views on some issues. But part of the way he's made his name is by truth-squadding and taking a satirically aggressive approach toward people on the right in the media. Because I don't watch TV, I'm not going to have the same interest in going after right wing guys on TV.

TVGuide.com: You've had to adjust your look for TV. What's the discussion like around here about what you wear?
I have settled on a uniform I wear that doesn't take very much thought because everything looks the same. Here are today's jacket selections. It's about as diverse as the Republican National Convention.

TVGuide.com: But you're comfortable with it?
My goal about the appearance issue is that it becomes a non-issue - that it's something I don't have to think about a lot and it's not something that becomes an area of focus for anybody else. I'd like it to be sort of neutral so you can focus on what I'm saying. My hate mail will always be about how I'm gay and not pretty.

TVGuide.com: But very quietly you've made history as being the first openly gay woman with a national TV news program. The audience has embraced you. How do you feel about that?
I love this country. I think the arc of the universe bends toward justice. We are a meritocracy. When people come out and fight for their rights, over time things get better and more opportunities become available...Every time somebody breaks a glass ceiling we get stronger as a country.