NBC’s khaki-wearing data king Steve Kornacki will spread his wings in a new deal
NBC News and MSNBC political correspondent Steve Kornacki had only slept for a few hours in the five days between election day and the afternoon of Nov. 7 when the board with his electoral vote map showed Joe Biden winning the presidency. But it was his necktie that got the worst of it.
The blue, green and white striped tie was held together by staples by the end of the bruising 2020 campaign. A few days later, Kornacki posted a picture of it on Twitter, where his growing legion of fans said it belonged in the Smithsonian.
On his way home from the Rockefeller Center studio, Kornacki called his agent Olivia Metzger to tell her about the tie, which he had tossed in a wastebasket. In the fog of covering the election results, Kornacki had not yet absorbed how he became a TV icon and internet obsession (#chartthrob and #TrackingKornacki were among his hashtags) and that the clothing accessory was a part of history.
“My agent said, ‘You’re going to go back to the office and track that tie down,’“Kornacki, 41, recalled in an interview this week. “I returned late in the afternoon and the trash had been taken out. It was in a giant bin at the end of the hallway.”
While the Smithsonian is considering adding the tattered tie to its collection, viewers and fans have sent Kornacki more than 100 replacements. NBCUniversal has shown its appreciation, too, giving the youthful-looking correspondent a new multimillion-dollar four-year contract that will employ him across NBC Sports and its entertainment division in addition to NBC News, where he will be a mainstay of MSNBC’s political coverage.
Rather than turn Kornacki into another cable news host weighing in on politics, NBCU executives agreed to a plan that would take greater advantage of his data analysis skills and pop culture appeal powered by his nerd chic style.
Zoom and video conferencing, once a last resort for TV news shows, are here to stay.
“His interests really vary — so we’re fortunate to have a wider NBCU portfolio that’s equally dynamic,” NBCUniversal News Group Chairman Cesar Conde told The Times.
The Kornacki brand expansion began in early December when NBC Sports invited him to analyze the NFL playoff picture on “Sunday Night Football”; he was invited back each week for the rest of the season. Earlier this month, he joined the network’s coverage of the Kentucky Derby, where he was the only analyst on the broadcast to pick Medina Spirit, the winner that paid out at 12-1 odds.
In his new deal, Kornacki will be a regular analyst on NBC’s “Football Night in America” and the halftime report on “Sunday Night Football.” He will also be a part of the network’s Super Bowl telecast in 2022.
Kornacki will have a role in NBC’s coverage of the Olympic Games and Triple Crown horse racing — a sport he’s loved since childhood when he went to watch harness races with his uncle at Scarborough Downs in Maine. He will also break down statistics on NBCU’s regional sports channels, which carry National Hockey League, Major League Baseball and National Basketball Assn. games in several major markets.
On the entertainment side, Kornacki will develop, produce and host a game show for the network or NBCU’s streaming service, Peacock.
A fan of “Sale of the Century” — a fast-paced show that mixed quiz questions with bargaining and shopping — Kornacki loves the genre. He regularly donned a loud sports jacket for a ’70s-style game-show bit on the weekend MSNBC show he hosted several years ago, offering guests a prize of a $50 gift certificate redeemable at a food cart near Rockefeller Plaza.
Kornacki’s passion for numbers, especially when they measure a competition, runs deep. Growing up outside of Boston, he spent his early years poring over NBA box scores during the Boston Celtics’ spectacular run in the 1980s. But he had his limits.
“I was not somebody they pegged as ‘you should go into engineering,’” said Kornacki, who holds a degree in film and television from Boston University. “When they put me in a calculus class, I was terrible at it. I can add, subtract, multiply and divide quickly in my head. While I remember numbers and think in numbers that way, it’s not like I’m someone who has a great statistical model.”
Jon Klein, a former president of CNN, gave Kornacki one of his early TV jobs, as a fill-in host for the network’s morning program. He said Kornacki’s authenticity and amiable personality help viewers become more engaged with data that might come off as dry and dull in the hands of others.
“He could be your next door neighbor or the guy downstairs who knows an awful lot but isn’t a showoff about it,” Klein said. “His enthusiasm rubs off and makes you the viewer enthusiastic about it and say, ‘If this guy cares so much, then maybe I ought to lean in a little bit and try to understand.’”
After establishing himself as a political writer, Kornacki joined MSNBC in 2012 as a co-host of “The Cycle” and was later part of the MSNBC lineup on afternoons and weekends. But his breakthrough happened in 2020 as viewers came to depend on his analyses during the presidential campaign, culminating in the arduous marathon vote count that turned election night into a weeklong saga.
Celebrities such as Leslie Jones and Chrissy Teigen became obsessed with Kornacki, turning him into a social media sensation. He was only vaguely aware of his growing renown, hearing about it in texts from friends and family while doing deep dives into the numbers on his now-famous board. But his impact became more apparent as the presidential vote count went on.
“My producer here came to me one day around that time and said, ‘I need to find out what brand your pants are.’” Kornacki said. “A reporter had a question about my pants. I never expected that.”
After word spread that Kornacki wore khakis from the Gap, the retailer offered him a lifetime supply. Kornacki passed on the gift (“I go through about one pair of pants every five or 10 years”). The company ended up donating 500 pairs in Kornacki’s name to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Workforce Readiness Program.
The former Bush White House communications director will see her daytime show “Dateline: White House” expand to two hours daily.
“I’m flattered,” he said, “but I do find it inexplicable.”
One upside is that no one will ever again tell Kornacki to change his signature sartorial look, which often happens in the TV business.
“I’ve been here seven years and there have been various attempts where they have said, ‘We’ve got to get you more to wear,’” he said. “As a consequence of COVID, there wasn’t a ton of adult supervision here last fall. There wasn’t anybody around to look at me and go, ‘Wait a minute. You’re going to go on the air looking like that?’”
Even as his popularity has surged, Kornacki remains humble. His Twitter account does not have a blue check that the social media platform gives to celebrities, public figures and journalists to verify their identities. When asked about making People magazine’s 2020 list of the “Sexiest Men Alive,” Kornacki groaned.
“Dear God,” he said. “Endless grief from everybody I know. Obviously, there was some voter fraud on that one.”
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