By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger
Current TV and its biggest star have parted ways – and none too amicably. Following months of tension, the cable brainchild of former Vice-President Al Gore and legal services magnate/Democratic kingpin, Joel Hyatt, delivered a letter of termination to bombastic Keith Olbermann ending their 5 year, $50 Million deal after barely a year. In an open letter to viewers, Gore and Hyatt blamed a difference in values for the break-up:
We created Current to give voice to those Americans who refuse to rely on corporate-controlled media and are seeking an authentic progressive outlet. We are more committed to those goals today than ever before. Current was also founded on the values of respect, openness, collegiality, and loyalty to our viewers. Unfortunately these values are no longer reflected in our relationship with Keith Olbermann and we have ended it.
Olbermann immediately shot back on Twitter in the blame game and threatened to sue:
I’d like to apologize to my viewers and my staff for the failure of Current TV. Editorially, Countdown had never been better. But for more than a year I have been imploring Al Gore and Joel Hyatt to resolve our issues internally, while I’ve been not publicizing my complaints, and keeping the show alive for the sake of its loyal viewers and even more loyal staff. Nevertheless, Mr. Gore and Mr. Hyatt, instead of abiding by their promises and obligations and investing in a quality news program, finally thought it was more economical to try to get out of my contract. It goes almost without saying that the claims against me in Current’s statement are untrue and will be proved so in the legal actions I will be filing against them presently. To understand Mr. Hyatt’s “values of respect, openness, collegiality and loyalty,” I encourage you to read of a previous occasion Mr. Hyatt found himself in court for having unjustly fired an employee. That employee’s name was Clarence B. Cain. In due course, the truth of the ethics of Mr. Gore and Mr. Hyatt will come out. For now, it is important only to again acknowledge that joining them was a sincere and well-intentioned gesture on my part, but in retrospect a foolish one. That lack of judgment is mine and mine alone, and I apologize again for it.
Ouch! Olbermann’s attorney, Patricia Glaser, Esq., added fuel to the fire saying, “”[Current] can expect a bad a result.” Whoa there, Trish. Nothing is more problematic than litigation and Olbermann may not make the most sympathetic Plaintiff ever to sit at the table. The liberal icon, most recently noted for taking msnbc from a little traveled cable news outlet to the liberal counterbalance for conservative Fox News, has had a history of histrionic fallings out with bosses. As we previously discussed, Olbermann had messy divorces with ESPN for allegedly appearing on TV without authorization, and msnbc for unauthorized political contributions. Both resulted in acrimony and charges that Olbermann was more prima donna than pundit. For his part, Olbermann claimed neither employment policy was clear or uniformly enforced. (Olbermann, of course, won this blog’s affection for serving as a frequent platform for our host, Jonathan Turley’s, segments on legal issues of the day.)
The recent break up may have been due more to practical matters than philosophical differences over policy. Current TV has suffered from an embarrassing series of production snafus from lighting failures to glitches in the show’s graphics. In response, Olbermann went to a completely black background to vent his frustration. He also famously refused to take part in the network’s coverage of the Iowa caucuses. Management was peeved, so much so, that his program web page perfunctorily listed his name but not his face. Tantamount to exile in the TV business. The camps then went into communication-by-attorney mode which most always spells the beginning of the end.
The tipping point may have been Olbermann’s insistence on taking a vacation day on the eve of the Super Tuesday primaries. Current TV management warned it would be a breach of contract but the channel’s biggest star didn’t show up anyway. Things weren’t always this bad at Current. Launched as a liberal/progressive outlet free from corporate oversight, Olbermann was more partner than employee. Al Gore crowed the marriage was, “a great fit.” Hyatt ,as recently as March 5th called Olbermann, “the big gun in our lineup” and explained,“It’s all on top of his shoulders.” How do like me now, Joel?
Big gun or no, Current TV recently began adding other liberal voices. Young Turks rising star, Cenk Uygur, was inserted into the lineup just before Countdown in September. Former Michigan governor, Jennifer Granholm, was given the 9:00 p.m. slot after Countdown to launch her show, The War Room. Reportedly, another of Olbermann’s complaints was no say in who preceded or followed his show. Not exactly a ringing endorsement to colleagues.
Careful around the water cooler there, guys.
Regardless of the batting order, the Current TV version of Countdown was not a ratings hit. After scoring nearly a million nightly viewers on msnbc, Olbermann’s audience plummeted to 177,000 on Current. Only 57,000 of that group was in the prized 25-54 demographic. In TV demographic is dough, and Current TV wasn’t making what it expected at the launch. Still, Countdown was the network’s most watched program.
Olbermann was not given the courtesy of a send-off show, but will appear on David Letterman’s Late Night show on Tuesday to talk about the mess. In the meantime, Attorney Glaser has vowed to file the breach on contract Complaint next week, too. Both should make for interesting looking and reading.
Former New York governor Eliott Spitzer, who occasionally subed for Olbermann, will take over the time slot with a new show called, Viewpoint With Eliot Spitzer. Spitzer has been on the rehabilitation tour since his famous public relations nightmare involving hookers and hotel rooms. Never a good pairing. Most recently he co-hosted a CNN political show, ParkerSpitzer, with right-leaning columnist Kathleen Parker, forming a rehash of the iconic Point-Counterpoint segments in the heyday of CBS’ 60 Minutes. The show generated little heat and less light, prompting the Pulitzer Prize-winning Parker to leave after a series of perceived “discourtesies” at the hands of CNN and a parting shot from the acerbic New York politico: ““Not everyone is good at everything.” To which I would have to add, “sauce for the goose,” indeed, there Governor.
Is Current TV trading one mercurial personality for another? Stay tuned.
~Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger