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. If you’re going to make the man your partner and give him a title of News Director, you need to let the man do the directing. Based on this article, it sounds like Current was directing him, like Olbermann had no control.

  2. Keith was the best thing Current had going for it. The “Young Turks” is a clear example of the shoddy, poorly produced stuff Keith Oberman is talking about. The host looks like and talks like he just rolled out of a bar in a very bad movie about a “made” man. The show is a visual disaster. Unfortunate, Al Gore is running away from a powerful force for good the way he ran away from Bill Clinton during his run for president. I think he will reap the same result–failure.
    I will miss Keith and his clear sighted ability to call them all out with the facts. It is an “inconvenient truth” that the establishment does not and will not support that kind of reporting. Mr. Gore, you should be ashamed.

  3. You label Keith as “bombastic”… I say he’s forceful, honest, and direct. Did Current TV simply use Keith to gain attention and higher ratings? They KNEW what they were getting! Yes, Keith injects emotion into his commentary, into his intelligent and incisive reporting, and into his humor….all of which makes his program interesting, as well as informative. You FEEL his pain, you FEEL his anger, and you FEEL his heart-felt sincerity when he covers a story. And he covers it well. He’s never just another talking head! If Keith is absent from Current TV, then I too will be absent from Current TV. For Keith is one of the best- hands down- as evidenced by his outstanding coverage of OWS during the past year. I wish him well, and hope that he is back on the air soon. We need his unique voice and viewpoint!

  4. I liked Olbermann but then his angry rants overwhelmed my desire to hear what he had to say.
    Bottom line to me is you want a job then you need to play nice with your employer(s)

  5. Jeff Metz:

    “Honestly, how many folks do you think have actually heard of Current TV let alone watch it.”


    You might want to actually read the articles before shamelessly plugging your own blog under the guise of commentary as you’ve done here recently. At his peak — and as the article states — Olbermann commanded a million viewers a night on msnbc and about 177,000 on Current TV. That would be about a million and 177,000, respectively, more a day than read your blog daily.

    Leeches are loathsome creatures, don’t you agree? Ever consider a name change to “mostly-wrong”?

  6. Have no fear. Olbermann will be back just like a fecal mass one tries to flush through a government mandated low flow toilet. The flies that are the essence of the leftist media are naturally attracted to him. It’s symbiosis. They need each other to have meaning.

  7. I admit it I’m going to miss Keith alot…I remember the bad old days when everyone at CBS,NBC,ABC,CNN et all were either hiding under their desks or kissing the ass of the boy blunder…not Kieth…I for one will profoundly miss him.

  8. Keith Olbermann’s exit from Current TV is simply a small scale joke. Honestly, how many folks do you think have actually heard of Current TV let alone watch it. Olbermann’s last stop was MSNBC, slightly more well known channel but only slight more viewed. My advice to Mr. Olbermann would be to go back to something he was good at. Broadcasting sports.

    Jeff Metz

  9. olbermann was a bit to bombastic to take every day. the events of the day determined if i watched.

    i see current trying to become dnc-tv to fox’s gop-tv

  10. As they say in elementary school, “does not play well with others.” I really liked his commentary, but don’t understand the perpetual feuds with his bosses.

  11. As I noted earlier, Olbermann may be bombastic and have his issues–but he had an excellent program. I think many of his bosses didn’t like the fact that they couldn’t control him…that he rarely compromised when he believed in what he was doing. I guess those are things that I admire about him. I think what we see too often these days is pseudo journalists and newsmen and women who are too concerned about their careers and, therefore, too beholden to their corporate overlords.

  12. Michael Cheneywatch McCollum, thank you.

    Actually, good comments all around. No snipes or snarks. I like that.

  13. Jeez, what proffs viewers/analyzers there are here.

    Went for tirst time to the Current site to read about Olbermann, but ended up looking at Y Turks segment about Drone Porn (see post earlier).
    Folks, I’ve got LTE tech connection here. No glitches—but here it was terribly glitchy.

    Great long good (oxymoron) article. Bringing up, that it isn’t the personality that brings us (although it can drive us away), it is the information quality, and the insights offered.
    Now the Turk visit above with the drone porn comparison to our combat game culture was damaged seriously by the program leader. Perhaps it was due to too little segment time (no way to know). But he drove the discussion from person to person without consideration to illumination, only seeming satisfied with token (because of time) agreement.
    That is NOT worthwhile.
    And MCM thanks for the best formulation ever, that news is and can’t be objective.

    What are the ones on the net, worth checking out, and how often do they send (old terminology…..send).

  14. I posted this on another thread but I’m moving it here as a more appropriate place for it.

    “Anon nurse, Thanks for the link. KO has a reputation of being volatile but I wonder about him lately. I think his fathers death (13 months after his mother died) affected him profoundly. A long, serious illness that ends badly for a loved one could have left him damaged in ways we can’t even imagine. He’s still doing ‘Friday nights with Thurber’. I’m not sure that’s a good sign. I wish him well.

    And his dissatisfaction with production values at Current TV is not displaced either”

    I think Current has made a marketing error with their news shows by not doing a high quality (high quality is important) stream to as many Internet streaming services as would handle it. Even a high quality, real time stream to their own web site would have drawn an audience IMO. For fans of KO and the Young Turks that don’t have access to Current TV watching the show has been a hit or miss endeavour with poor quality streams and more glitches and black-outs than not. It sure felt that way anyway and I have virtually given up trying to watch their streams regularly. I have a computer that will handle a high qual stream so it’s not me- it’s them.

    The Internet connection could have magnified the message and would have multiplied it, there are personal and commercial bogs that regularly spotlight comments and stories from established cable TV shows. I think Current needed this kind of cross-pollination for its new news line-up to build a broad fan base. Their preferred youthful demographic probably spends more time in front of a computer than a TV.

    And the production values could have been higher. 🙂

  15. “He often had excellent and informative guests like Professor Turley, Jeremy Scahill, Wendell Potter-among many others.”

    This has been the largest point I seek to make about the loss of Keith Olbermann, the same would be said for Rachel Maddow’s show. I’m not tuning in for their personality. I appreciate that they are..who they are…but, without that show, Jonathan Turley would not get to explain legal views to us. He would rarely get CNN face time because they always go to Toobin (who annoys me from time to time frankly)

    JTurley is just one of the guests I was able to ‘get to know’ over the last 10 years. I have most of the Countdown segments on file in our office. We record all sorts of news daily for measurement reasons. “how much coverage did Topic A get today, yesterday?”, “was it covered at all?” “who did they choose to cover the topic?” etc.

    Countdown has offered 3 good segments on their show with 1 almost useless segment at the end, for many years. The guests are informative. The host is unapologetic and frank. His “special comment” segments are fun but they aren’t the most common feature, despite the “blowbag” accusations.

    I will add this though, there were times that the facts didn’t arrive in the show due to biases against Clinton and others. I personally called into correct the record on an item and was dismissed with prejudice when asked, “did you vote for Clinton in the primaries” This ad hominem circumstantial position bothered me for a while, but that is what the producer chose to do. It was a call to explain that the Barack Obama “Somali garb” picture actually came from FreeRepublic site before Drudge, before it ever touched the Clinton campaign volunteer who passed it. It originated with Freepers. Countdown didn’t care and presented it as Clinton’s fault and doing.

    I don’t worship at the ground of anyone outside my kids and wife. Turley might be wrong one day, I’d hate to have him on a pedestal he doesn’t want to be on. Olbermann, Maddow, O’Donnell, Cenk, you name it…they aren’t the centers of our universe. But they do bring quality discussion forward.

    Now, as for Al Gore, Hyatt, and CurrentTV, in my view this is a PR disaster. My main background in radio says, “you don’t fire shows and hosts, you fire listeners”

    Did CurrentTV consider us before this decision? NO
    This inner fight was virtually unknown outside the industry. There have been grumblings percolating since December and eventually something had to give. As the above article points, the production values began to fall apart near the beginning. The “dark set” response was stark.

    Though, $50 million is a lot of money, I don’t know how much of that is take home pay and how much money is part of the show. I don’t know how much they invested in production outside his personal pay, but I can tell you it is frustrating to get approval for a flagship operation then be on the air without assistance that makes a flagship operate!

    Having produced shows that required commitment from management, I can tell you that it is very frustrating to be in the middle of broadcasts and having gear fail that should have easily been dealt with if the management had been serious. Usually media management is only concerned about dollars and surface level appearances. “do we look good, are we making money?”

    Keith Olbermann ran into the Al Gore I didn’t vote for. He ran into the perpetual failure that is Al Gore. I only wish we had a different “global warming” champion because, though I recognize Gore did his absolute best, he is a perpetual failure. I don’t like this, because I think his heart might be in the right place. But he is not a good leader, clearly doesn’t know how to win a fight. He just fired the firebrand he sought. Just like he ran from Clinton’s blowjob. The problems at Current are located in the brains of Al Gore and Hyatt.

    Just as they had a line up coming that was looking good, they canned the guy that would guarantee they’d never be a TV version of Air America. Air America failed for the same reasons CurrentTV will fail if it doesn’t change course…we don’t need a DNC mouthpiece that simply takes up the airwaves with DNC talking points. Cenk Uygur is the one on there now who isn’t as much a DNC puppet as the rest. Granholm is nice, but DNC point maker, Bill Press and Stephanie Miller…very predictable and as I typically refer to most of these…”controlled opposition”.

    Someone above said we don’t need a left wing version of Rush Limbaugh. This comparison doesn’t fit in my view. Rush doesn’t speak from conviction very often, he’s a professional panderer. He’ll go where the flies are. Olbermann and others like him are firebrands because they have conviction, and that conviction matters to people who tune in.

    Cenk Uygur said it best the other night when slamming CNN’s Howard Kurtz on the idea that these ‘pundits’ have an obligation to ‘objectivity’. A journalist has that obligation, up to a point, but pundits aren’t journalists, Cenk isn’t one, Maddow isn’t one, Olbermann isn’t one…instead, they invite the journalists on. I could also argue that objectivity doesn’t exist in the news or we’d never be able to pick out what is a story and what isn’t. We’d only go for the most dramatic or overt news stories if that were true. Investigative reporting usually has to have non-objective root. “how dare they” starts a few great Pulitzers.

    Thanks for this blog, now we can still know what Prof Turley would share. We’ll find you on TV one way or the other.

  16. Blouise,
    Took 75 years to recognize it.

    Gene H,
    The more I add, the more I detract from the message. Right?
    I took away 2 sentences to Blouise. Maybe it’s better that way.

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