AJR logo     

 AJR  Features

From AJR,   April/May 2012  issue

Endgame for Olbermann   

An abrupt end to the mercurial anchor’s short, unhappy stint at Current TV. Fri., March 30, 2012.

By Rem Rieder
Rem Rieder (rrieder@ajr.umd.edu) is AJR's editor and senior vice president.      

It has seemed inevitable for some time. Now it's a done deal.

Keith Olbermann is out at Current TV.

It was only a year ago that Current TV hired Olbermann to give some prominence and currency to the nearly invisible liberal-leaning cable channel. Now he's gone.

It's the same old story with Olbermann. He's a supremely intelligent and gifted broadcaster. He's also a train wreck. It might happen quickly or over time, but things never end well.

It was clear in January that the endgame was underway, with evidence that Olbermann, as always, was having trouble with his bosses. Even though he was part of management as chief news officer, with a five-year, $50 million contract and a piece of the company, Olbermann wasn't happy. He was enraged by Current TV's technical glitches and by a management change. And so he refused to participate in the network's coverage of the Iowa caucuses and engaged in a public spat about why.

After that, it was just a matter of time.

Olbermann at his best is a major star, as he was during his groundbreaking partnership with Dan Patrick on ESPN, and as he was, for awhile anyway, hosting "Countdown" on MSNBC. With his barbed left-wing commentary, with his distinctive amalgam of passion and whimsy, he singlehandedly gave an identity and a major ratings boost to a long-struggling network that desperately needed both.

But then that blew up as well.

All the talent in the world can't compensate for Olbermann's imperious, my-way-or-the-highway approach, an approach that now borders on cliché. But it's Olbermann who ends up taking the highway. He is in danger of becoming the Terrell Owens of television.

There will be no signoff for Olbermann. Starting at 9 p.m. tonight, his 8 p.m. timeslot will be filled by "Viewpoint with Eliot Spitzer." Yep, that Eliot Spitzer, the scandal-scarred former New York governor who had a brief, unsuccessful run as a political talk show host on CNN.

In an open letter to its viewers on the network's Web site, founders Al Gore and Joel Hyatt wrote:

"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."

As good as Olbermann can be, it's hard to envision a long line of suitors wooing him for his next act.