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Current TV fires Keith Olbermann, announces that Eliot Spitzer will join its lineup

Current TV, the progressive cable network founded by Al Gore and Joel Hyatt, announced minutes ago that it has fired Keith Olbermann, its best-known personality and chief news officer. As is often the case when media companies decide to part ways with a host, Olbermann’s dismissal is effective immediately – he won’t be given a chance to sign off or host a farewell show.

Current’s cofounders published a letter to viewers announcing their decision.

To the Viewers of Current:

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.

We are moving ahead by honoring Current’s values. Current has a fundamental obligation to deliver news programming with a progressive perspective that our viewers can count on being available daily — especially now, during the presidential election campaign. Current exists because our audience desires the kind of perspective, insight and commentary that is not easily found elsewhere in this time of big media consolidation.

As we move toward this summer’s political conventions and the general election in the fall, Current is making significant new additions to our broadcasts. We have just debuted six hours of new programming each weekday with Bill Press (“Full Court Press” at 6 am ET/3 am PT) and Stephanie Miller (“Talking Liberally” at 9 am ET/6 pm PT).

We’re very excited to announce that beginning tonight, former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer will host “Viewpoint with Eliot Spitzer,” at 8 pm ET/5 pm PT. Eliot is a veteran public servant and an astute observer of the issues of the day. He has important opinions and insights and he relishes the kind of constructive discourse that our viewers will appreciate this election year. We are confident that our viewers will be able to count on Gov. Spitzer to deliver critical information on a daily basis.

All of these additions to Current’s lineup are aimed at achieving one simple goal — the goal that has always been central to Current’s mission: To tell stories no one else will tell, to speak truth to power, and to influence the conversation of democracy on behalf of those whose voices are too seldom heard. We, and everyone at Current, want to thank our viewers for their continued steadfast support.

Sincerely,

Al Gore & Joel Hyatt
Current’s Founders

The New York Times, which broke the news of Olbermann’s ouster, reports that Current’s managers unanimously agreed that the network should fire him, indicating that the relationship had gone pretty far south.

Incidentally, this isn’t the first time that Olbermann has been fired. His tenure at each of the other major networks he has worked at (MSNBC, Fox Sports Net, ESPN) ended in acrimony after tension between Olbermann and his bosses boiled over. Olbermann’s last gig, with MSNBC, lasted over half a decade, but his partnership with Current has now ended after less than a year.

Though we don’t know what happened behind the scenes at Current that led to the falling-out between Olbermann and Current TV leadership, it’s probably safe to conclude that Gore, Hyatt, and their executive team found Olbermann difficult to work with, and ultimately concluded the souring relationship was irreparable.

Within an hour of the publication of the open letter above, Olbermann had begun lashing out at Current on Twitter, and vowing a retaliatory lawsuit.

In a series of tweets, he wrote:

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 implied 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.

Several assertions in this statement strike us as odd.

First, Olbermann claims that “for more than a year I have been imploring Al Gore and Joel Hyatt to resolve our issues internally.” But Olbermann’s deal with Current was only finalized in early February 2011.

If this claim is true, then it means Olbermann’s problems with Current began just about the millisecond the ink was dry on their contract – or not long after.

Olbermann is basically saying he never had a good relationship with Gore or Hyatt. Well, whose fault is that? It takes two to tango, but Olbermann has made a reputation for himself as being tough to work with. He’s been described as passionate onscreen and ill-tempered offscreen. He’s reportedly missed a lot of work lately, which precipitated his removal.

Second, Olbermann claims that he has “not [been] publicizing my complaints” with Current TV leadership. But that’s not true. Olbermann has talked on the record to entertainment industry reporters about his gripes with the network. Has Olbermann forgotten this story filed by The Hollywood Reporter?

Third, does Olbermann really expect us to believe he was ousted because Gore and Hyatt thought it would be more “economical” to get rid of him? Countdown was pulling in Current’s highest ratings. Earlier this month, Hyatt characterised Olbermann as “the big gun in our lineup” to the New York Times, and even described Current itself as “all on top of his shoulders”.

If Current thought they could depend on Olbermann, why would they axe him? Certainly not to save money. No competent network executive would sack its most valuable personality just to save a few bucks.

If Olbermann insisted on retaining control of the “Countdown” name and brand in the contract he signed with Current last year (MSNBC allowed him to take those marks with him when he left), it’s possible that the show will be continuing in some form on another network… though we wonder what television executive would want to take a chance on Olbermann now.

If Olbermann wants to continue to be a broadcaster, perhaps he should relaunch Countdown as an Internet television show. That way, he can be his own boss, and continue to discuss news, sports, and politics in his trademark style on his terms.

We remain excited about the future of Current TV even without Keith Olbermann. A network has to be bigger than one person or personality. To garner good ratings, it needs a compelling lineup. And Current has put together some good new shows, like The War Room with Jennifer Granholm. Time will tell if it can be competitive with more established news networks like MSNBC and CNN.

One Comment

  1. Posted March 30th, 2012 at 7:59 PM | Permalink

    I see a lot of the fictional character Howard Beel in Keith. He release his passion in every broadcast, usually, eventually to his own detriment.