Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Keith Olbermann abruptly departs MSNBC, says Countdown has come to an end

Countdown is no more.

The program that drove MSNBC's renaissance has broadcast its last episode, host Keith Olbermann announced earlier this evening, just before 6 PM Pacific Time.

No advance warning was given to viewers or the press.

Little was offered in the way of an explanation for the departure in Olbermann's cryptic farewell address, in which he solemnly thanked loyal viewers and reflected on Countdown's success. At the same time Olbermann was saying goodbye on air, MSNBC was releasing a statement confirming the news. It read:
MSNBC and Keith Olbermann have ended their contract. The last broadcast of ‘Countdown with Keith Olbermann’ will be this evening. MSNBC thanks Keith for his integral role in MSNBC’s success and we wish him well in his future endeavors.
The question everybody seems to wondering as of this hour is whether Olbermann quit or was forced out. More likely, it was a combination of both. It's not a secret that Keith and MSNBC executives didn't get along so well. An already fragile relationship was further damaged back in November when MSNBC chieftain Phil Griffin suspended Keith for not getting the network's approval before making donations to several candidates.

There's already been speculation that Countdown's termination was ordered by Comcast, which was given permission to take control of NBC Universal less than a hundred hours ago. Although we count ourselves among those who regard what corporate P.R. departments disseminate with deep suspicion, we think it unlikely that Comcast had anything to do with this.

Consider the timing: it doesn't make sense. Comcast spent vast amounts of money hiring lobbyists to soothe opposition on Capitol Hill to its deal with General Electric. They had a lot riding on the transaction. The last thing they'd want, after weathering criticism for buying the regulatory approval that they needed to assume control of NBC, would be another controversy. Why would they want to purposefully expose themselves to heavy fire for forcing out the best-known progressive broadcaster in cable television?

Perhaps the reason Keith isn't presently being more forthcoming about his exit is that MSNBC is paying him not to say anything. NBC similarly bought Conan O'Brien's silence exactly a year ago today, ironically, when it agreed to terms releasing the Tonight Show host from his contract.

Conan walked away with tens of millions of dollars, but was barred by the agreement from even "being funny on television" for a time.

Some of Keith's critics are already celebrating the news, apparently forgetting that in the past, they've denounced the removal of commentators of their own ideological persuasion as censorship. They should be decrying Countdown's termination as censorship, too, since they are assuming that the network pulled the plug on the show. But, revealingly, they're not.

Fans of Keith ought to consider the possibility that the decision to end the show may have been his as much as it was MSNBC's. If, as we suspect, Keith wished to escape from 30 Rock and move on, then we're happy for him. His show lasted for nearly eight years, spanning more than 1,400 episodes. That's a long run for a television program. And, keep in mind, Countdown was a live production that ran five nights a week in an hour-long timeslot.

A great many people get tired of holding a particular job or responsibility after so many years of duty. Supporters of Keith can hardly blame him for opting in favor of a change in scenery if that's what he wanted.

The bottom line is this: We need to avoid rushing to judgment until we hear from Keith. And it may be a while until we do.


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