Exit Olbermann

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.

Sources:  Huffington Post; New York Times; Daily Beast

~Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

53 thoughts on “Exit Olbermann”

  1. Olberman wasn’t so bad. However, I can’t understand why a blowhard like Hyatt thinks that he or Al Bore can run a network. They are too elitist, too narrow minded and their egos are too big. you have to understand what the people of this country want – you just can’t fly over them in private planes on your way from one summit to another summit and back to another speaking engagement.

    One other thing…I didn’t realize the movie “Philadelphia” was based on Joel Hyatt’s narrow attitude. Mr. Hyatt, you talk liberal but you live an act conservative. Ha, a sneaky WOLF in LAMB’s clothing. The worst kind of guy.

  2. I’ll always thank Keith for being the first to call out the Emperor for having no clothes on. Once he called out Bush for the war and the other travesties of his administration, other commentators started having some guts to do the same thing.

  3. Current TV countersues Keith Olbermann

    Current TV filed a countersuit Friday against its former star employee Keith Olbermann, a day after the television personality filed his suit against the company. Current TV, co-founded by former Vice President Al Gore and businessman Joel Hyatt, ousted Olbermann last week.

    The company’s 16-page suit, filed in California Superior Court, accuses Olbermann of breach of contract and dismisses as “fiction” the charges Olbermann leveled against it Thursday.

  4. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/05/keith-olbermann-sues-current-tv_n_1406905.html

    Keith Olbermann Sues Current TV

    by Rebecca Shapiro
    Posted: 04/ 5/2012 5:02 pm Updated: 04/ 5/2012 6:57 pm

    “Keith Olbermann sued Current TV on Thursday, claiming that the network owed him up to $70 million in cash and equity compensation after his termination last week. TMZ was first to report the news.

    Olbermann, who sued for breach of contract, was fired from Current TV last Friday, just one year into his five year $50 million contract.

    Olbermann cited a list of complaints in the lawsuit including the network broadcasting ads containing his image without his permission; refusing to invest resources in his show; using his name to endorse third party services; and disclosing confidential terms of his contract to the press. The lawsuit also states that “Olbermann was disheartened to discover Al Gore, Joel Hyatt, and the management of Current are no more than dilettantes portraying entertainment industry executives.””


  5. Thanks, Nal. (Thanks, as well, for Eric Holder’s response/letter on the “Doubling Down” thread.)

  6. Current TV Could Lose Cable Spot

    Al Gore might not just have a lawsuit on his hands soon, but his Current TV could lose its cable spot with Time Warner. After firing and publicly feuding with Keith Olbermann, whose show reportedly brought in a majority of the network’s ratings (an average of 177,000 viewers tuned in each night), Time Warner may drop Gore’s network entirely if ratings sink significantly for two consecutive quarters. The fiery Olbermann’s prime 8 p.m. slot has been filled by CNN host Eliot Spitzer, but his show is already flailing and the network is also hampered by a lack of distribution across the country.

  7. But GOP/FOX, GE/MSNBC, Viacom/CBS, Disney/ABC sure do have the market cornered on honesty in television news media, don’t they?

  8. But, but what is this????

    “Current was also founded on the values of respect, openness, collegiality, and loyalty to our viewers.”

    Loyalty to our viewers??? What does that mean? Loyality to the Dem Party viewers? Really, WTF? Why doesn’t Al Gore go help his good friend, Howard Dean sell MEK. Somehow I don’t think Cenk is going to save Al or Current TV.

    Perhaps Al Gore could go do some face time commercials for BP and tell us all how committed BP is to the coastline and our ocean waters. Anything for loyality to the Dem Party baby, anything to generate revenue for one side of our nations two dishonest, worthless parties, Whatever.

    Current TV has everything to do with “loyality” but NOTHING at all to do with honest news.

  9. LOL. Don’t you just LOVE reading how these Right-Wingers -bless their happy little hearts- are havin’ a ball, …gloating, ….and trying to smear Keith? Now it’s mean angry Keith vs. poor ole Limo/Taxi drivers. Is that the best that you can do fellas? NEWS FLASH: NOBODY likes taxi- drivers! Not even OTHER taxi drivers!!! Hey guys, chill out, and just take some more Viagra!

  10. Emails Detail Extended Struggle Between Olbermann And Current TV Bosses

    David Taintor April 2, 2012, 11:42 AM 655 0

    Keith Olbermann’s fractious relationship with Current TV had been deteriorating for months before his firing last week, according to email excerpts posted by The Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz.

    In early August, Olbermann’s manager Michael Price sent Current CEO Joel Hyatt a list of dozens of “deficiencies” plaguing Countdown. “Immediate attention” is required and “we are not aware of any demonstrable effort to address the issues,” Price reportedly wrote. On September 21, Current TV’s President David Bohrman reportedly wrote that the network will work “quickly” to resolve the production problems and “we will get almost all the things you need and have been asking for.”

    The back and forth continued — but so did the technical problems. The lights went out in Countdown’s studio more than once. Current cut away from Olbermann mid-sentence to run a promo for former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s show, The War Room. Price emailed Current again saying that the “technical breakdowns have had a negative impact” on the show. Bohrman insisted it wouldn’t happen again.

    Because Olbermann served as executive producer of Countdown, he was responsible for addressing the technical problems, a source close to the matter said. Olbermann also hand-picked the show’s studio. It’s live television, the source added, and technical issues do come up. But “the idea that Current has some rash of technical problems is overstated,” the source told TPM.

    “Editorially, Countdown had never been better,” Olbermann said in his statement after he was fired by network. But it’s true the progressive cable network’s production value can’t always rival Olbermann’s former home of MSNBC.

    Apart from the broadcast concerns, Olbermann also complained about his car service, going through eight different companies. Olbermann complained that some of the drivers “smelled” and “talked to him.” Kurtz reported on Twitter, though, that a source said Olbermann switched car services because Current didn’t pay the bills. Olbermann’s manager, Price, didn’t return TPM’s requests for comment on the emails.

    Olbermann said in his statement he plans to file suit against Current TV. The law firm that represents Current has hired the crisis public relations firm Fabiani & Lehane to represent the network. And Olbermann is scheduled to appear on David Letterman’s the Late Show Tuesday night to tell his side of the story.

    Hours after parting ways with its star host, Current debuted former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s show, Viewpoint, which avoided the Olbermann issue altogether. TPM

  11. Keith was a godsend to those of us who actually read the constitution, treaties, unconstitutional laws that passed during the Bushista years (Patriot Act, MCA ’06, FISA fiasco ’08, not to mention the ‘office of faith-based initiatives’ created with an executive order by Dumbya, now continued under Obama). Certainly, no one in Moronic Media was ever telling us the truth.

    Gore hired Olbermann because he already had a fan base for his commentaries that were delivered with the verbal punch of old TV’s “Pow! Right in the kisser!” style. It was like fresh water and manna to those watching the onrush of fascism taking over America.

    We sat up and took notice because Keith asked intelligent questions and expected straight answers. You, Mr. Turley, were part of the realization (for me) that someone else read the same documents that I did and came to the same conclusions about Bushista lies and war crimes and the unconstitutional laws that were passed in Congress as I did.

    When Obama consistently followed in the Bushista footsteps, Keith noticed and said something…, and I don’t think the Democrats anywhere wanted to be reminded that they are doing the same thing as the Repukes.

    I don’t know the reasons for the rift and the firing, but – IF – Gore was once again wimping out like he did in 2000, but this time trying to get Keith to water down his commentaries or reminders that the Obama regime is doing the same things as the Bushistas, then Gore was in the wrong.

    Yes, Keith has an ego, but when the man’s right, it behooves us to listen. If he’s wrong, he’ll also apologize.

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