Keith Olbermann is Clashing with a New Employer Again
Well, that didn’t take long, did it? Keith Olbermann is most famous for his hundreds of not-so-special “Special Comments” those melodramatic commentaries more often than not delivered in an indignant tone. He split with MSNBC after clashing with his employers there and then went over to Al Gore’s Current Television.” And now he is showing the second thing for which he has been famous for: clashing with management:
Mr. Olbermann, who was hired last year to be the top star of the upstart liberal news source, had been on the job scarcely three months when trouble started. He declined Current’s requests to host special hours of election coverage, apparently out of frustration about technical difficulties that have plagued his 8 p.m. program, “Countdown.”
The channel decided to produce election shows without him. Mr. Olbermann, however, said he did not know that, and on Tuesday, the day of the Iowa caucus, the cold war of sorts reached a flash point. He held a staff meeting even though “Countdown” had been pre-empted.
Perceiving it to be an act of defiance, David Bohrman, Current’s president, wrote a memo to Mr. Olbermann’s staff telling them that the anchor had long ago given up the opportunity to anchor on election nights. “We assumed,” he wrote, that “Keith had communicated to you.”
Remember that when Olbermann went over to Current TV he was considered a big catch.
It turns out he is a big catch of prima donna-ish behavior.
“Countdown” was back on the schedule on Wednesday, and Current declined to comment about Mr. Olbermann’s status at the channel. But the struggle for control — which Mr. Olbermann talked about on Twitter — hints at turmoil behind the scenes at Current and highlights how hard it can be to build big media brands around unpredictable personalities.
For both parties, millions of dollars are at stake. Current, which has occupied a lonely position on the cable dial for years, is investing in programming to become a liberal alternative to MSNBC and other cable news channels.
The channel, which is privately held by Mr. Gore and others, is estimated to have made about $115 million in revenue in 2011, according to the research firm SNL Kagan, with a cash flow margin of 22.7 percent. The much bigger MSNBC, a unit of NBCUniversal, is estimated to have made $409 million in revenue with a cash flow margin of 45 percent.
Current is a start-up of sorts, lacking the backing of a deep-pocketed parent company — something Mr. Olbermann hasn’t contended with in years. When the channel put on Iowa caucus coverage without Mr. Olbermann on Tuesday, it was derided by online commenters as cheaply produced; “the production values were only slightly better than local public access,” wrote Jonah Goldberg of the conservative National Review, calling it “hilarious.”
Mr. Olbermann did not directly cite production values as a reason for his absence, but he said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, “I was not given a legitimate opportunity to host under acceptable conditions.”
He deferred an interview request to his manager, Michael Price, who said he expected that Mr. Olbermann would stay at Current. Mr. Price said he was unable to answer other questions because of confidentiality clauses in the anchorman’s contract, which is believed to last five years and be worth $50 million total.
Increasingly, when employers hire Keith Olbermann they have a true broadcast talent, a big name and a chunk of $50 million worth of trouble.