BREAKING: Currrent TV Fires Keith Olbermann (UPDATED)
Once again Keith Olbermann has clashed with the management of a broadcasting company for which he has worked. And now he’s out at Al Gore’s Current TV:
5:13 p.m. | Updated Current TV said Friday afternoon that it had terminated the contract of its lead anchor, Keith Olbermann, scarcely a year after he was hired to reboot the fledgling channel in his progressive political image.
Starting Friday night, the former New York governor Eliot Spitzer will take over Mr. Olbermann’s 8 p.m. time slot, according to a letter to viewers. His program will be titled “Viewpoint With Eliot Spitzer.”
Mr. Olbermann did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Current indicated that he had failed to honor the terms of his five-year, $50 million contract, giving the channel the right to terminate it.
In the letter, the channel’s founders, Al Gore and Joel Hyatt, wrote on Friday: “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.”
Mr. Olbermann will not be given an opportunity to sign off.
In my other incarnation I once worked with an agent in Texas who said he avoided acts that had a “high PIA factor.” PIA stood for pain in the (you know). Olbermann’s history suggests he had a high PIA factor for his employers.
It almost didn’t matter who they were, but he is running out of broadcast venues.
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 Governor 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 Governor Spitzer to deliver critical information on a daily basis.
All of these additions to Current’s lineup are aimed at achieving one simple goal — thegoal 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 voice is too seldom heard. We, and everyone at Current, want to thank our viewers for their continued steadfast support.
Al Gore & Joel Hyatt
Current TV’s “Viewpoint with Eliot Spitzer” launches tonight at 8p ET. Former Governor Spitzer will offer up his opinion of the day’s news and then invite guests to discuss, analyze and debate.
“Eliot Spitzer is a veteran public servant and an astute observer of the issues of the day,” commented Current TV Chairman and former Vice President Al Gore. “He has important opinions and insights. Eliot relishes the kind of constructive discourse that our viewers will appreciate this important election year.”
Previously, Spitzer was the host of CNN’s “In The Arena” and has expressed his views on numerous national television shows and in his column in Slate.com. The renowned prosecutor and former Attorney General and Governor of the State of New York, is frequently referred to as the “Sheriff of Wall Street,” having prosecuted abuses among major Wall Street firms as well as numerous other industries.
“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to host a show on Current TV that will provide insight into and analysis of the critical issues on the minds of Americans today,” said Eliot Spitzer.
“Viewpoint” will be bookended by a nightly roster of progressive news analysis and political commentary beginning at 7pm ET/PT with “The Young Turks with Cenk Uygur,” to be followed at 9pm ET/PT by “The War Room with Jennifer Granholm” on the Peabody-and Emmy Award-winning television network.
We’ve done many posts here at TMV about Olbermann’s seemingly constant problems with his bosses. Here are a few of them.
The bottom line: it’s hard to see where he will resurface unless he pulls a Glenn Beck and becomes a media presence. And don’t look for Roger Ailes to hire him….
But some time soon look for Olbermann to take it up in his 156,009,876th “special comment.”
UPDATE: Gawker has Olbermann’s statement which suggests a legal battle could be looming in the future:
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.
UPDATE II: Talking Points Memo:
According to a source familiar with the situation, Current decided to let Olbermann go because the progressive pundit “did not respect the viewers of Current.” The basis of his firing included, according to the source: “sabotaging the network” and attacking Current and its executives.”
The source added that Olbermann failed to show up for work without authorization, missing almost half of his working days in the months of January and February. Olbermann asked for a vacation day on March 5, the night before Super Tuesday, according to the source. He was told it would be a breach if he took the vacation, which Olbermann did.
SOME OTHER REACTION:
The firing comes after months of open hostility by Olbermann toward his own network for reasons that nobody could ever quite figure out which came to a head when Olbermann refused to anchor election night coverage for the network in January. Not just fired, but fired and replaced by a guy who had to resign in disgrace and whose CNN show was canceled after less than six months? That’s gotta hurt.
Olbermann’s firing leaves what was supposed to be his triumphant return to television in tatters. After his bitter departure from MSNBC, Current sought to make him the centerpiece of its rebranding as a progressive news network. It gave him the title of Chief News Officer and promised that his uncompromising brand of television was more than welcomed there. Announcing the beginning of the partnership, Al Gore said that he was “extremely honored and delighted” that Olbermann was joining him, and called it “a great fit in every way.”
It was not long, though, before the tensions between Olbermann and his superiors exploded into the open. In January, his sudden absence from Current’s coverage of the Iowa caucuses led to open warfare between the two sides. Olbermann fired off a statement saying that he was “not given a legitimate opportunity to host under acceptable conditions,” adding, “They know it and we know it. Telling half the story is wrong.”
There were also reports that Olbermann was incensed by repeated technical problems with his show, and miffed that he was not being given a greater say in deciding which shows were going to precede and follow his.
Mr. Olbermann blamed Current for the blowup. “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,” he said in a statement posted on Twitter. “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,” Mr. Olbermann wrote.
Current brought Mr. Obermann aboard in a deal announced in February 2011 that gave him equity in the channel and named him chief news officer. But the host was soon clashing with the network, reportedly over elements such as poor production values.
Current said Friday that “Viewpoint with Eliot Spitzer” would bring insight and constructive conversation during an election year. “We are confident that our viewers will be able to count on Gov. Spitzer to deliver critical information on a daily basis,” Mr. Gore and Mr. Hyatt wrote.
There would not be any news programming on Current if Olbermann hadn’t agreed to join the channel and kickstart its fledgling coverage. He was joined by Jennifer Granholm, Cenk Uygur of the Young Turks, and simulcasted shows from liberal radio hosts Bill Press and Stephanie Miller. But Olbermann was the anchor, and he also had an equity stake in the company. It’s unclear what happens to that.
Olbermann now has the distinction of being fired from almost every major cable news channel on television – CNN, MSNBC and now Current. He never appeared on Fox News, but he did work for Fox Broadcasting, and was fired from there. As he would say on ESPN, you can’t stop him, you can’t even hope to contain him.
Olbermann was supposed to be the keynote speaker at this year’s Netroots Nation event. It’s unclear what happens to that appearance now.
JG’s comment: I only saw Current once in a hotel room. It struck me as very low rent cable network. This is not said in any way from an ideological standpoint — but as a consumer of news and someone who was in the (print) news biz. It seemed like it had potential, but it reeked of low budget production values. Olbermann is clearly something of a prima donna. As I noted earlier, he has run out of venues.
The Hollywood Reporter’s Tim Goodwin thinks Olbermann will surface in a higher profile, higher rent setting since he has always delivered ratings. Read his piece in full. Here’s just a small part of it:
It would be nice to see him pop up, once this mess is settled, somewhere familiar. Showtime, HBO, Comedy Central – wherever. Since I personally loathe all politics, I would like to see him back at ESPN – and boy, could that increasingly useless barge of blather use his presence.
But yeah, I know, that’s not going to happen. On the other hand, Fox is contemplating a national sports channel to challenge ESPN, and if you think Olbermann-Fox Part Deux is a nightmare scenario that couldn’t possibly come true — that Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly would sooner star in a buddy comedy — then I’m afraid your cynicism is clouding your understanding of business.
As for Current, this could very well be its endgame. In the industry, the death knell was already ringing, with rumors that Current was low on money and possibly even a candidate to be sold. If Olbermann was Current’s Hail Mary pass for relevance, what now?
Spitzer? Bill Press? Somebody named Stephanie Miller? Come on now. There is no turnaround in that line-up.
I remember the day Gore and Hyatt launched Current, talking (for the first time) about how it was going to revolutionize television – mostly with viewer-generated content. That idea was a flat out bust. Do you know why? Because there were no viewers.
If there are lawsuits in this mess and if the grievances and accusations in them are ever released, we may find out why the dream imploded. Until then, Olbermann is out and Current is arguably in its final stretch of proving ground and relevancy. We’re in an election year. Progressives have a lot to say about President Obama and the future direction of the Democratic Party (I’m assuming you understand that Current is not Fox News, yes?) So, if this coming election, with its magnetizing (and polarizing) issues, doesn’t give Current a significant boost in ratings, all that’s left will be waiting for the lights to go out (again).