Saturday, March 31, 2012

Buh-Bye Keith, Redux

Well, that didn't last long.

Barely nine months into his five-year contract with Current TV, Keith Olbermann has been fired by the network, after months of bickering with his bosses (gee, what a surprise).

And it promises to be a bloody and bitter divorce. From the Hollywood Reporter:

Keith Olbermann was informed Thursday morning that Current was terminating its five-year, $50 million contract with its star anchor.

The network sent an e-mail to Olbermann’s agent, Nick Khan at ICM, on Thursday morning stating that Olbermann was being let go for “material, serial breach of contract” and informed him thatEliot Spitzer would take Countdown’s 8 p.m. time slot effective immediately. (Spitzer will keep Olbermann’s staff and film his show, Viewpoint, out of the same Manhattan studio.)

According to knowledgeable sources, the issues were Olbermann’s repeated unauthorized absences as well as “sabotaging the network” and “attacking Current and its executives.”

Not surprisingly, Olbermann wasted little time firing back, and vowing legal action against his former employers:

“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,” said Olbermann. “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.”

He also all but assured legal action, saying, “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.”

It would be a vast understatement to say no one is surprised by this train wreck. In a business filled with volatile personalities, Olbermann deserves his own, special category. The man has been fired from virtually every major gig he's had in broadcasting, and he doesn't just burn bridges, he nukes them. In fact, the roster of TV executives who loathe Olbermann would probably equal the same number of viewers who watched his Current show on a good night (174,000).

Over the past 25 years, Olby has been fired by ESPN, MSNBC (twice); Fox TV (Rupert Murdoch described him as "crazy") and now, Current TV. Now in his early 50s, Olbermann is literally running out of future employment options--at least those commensurate with his ego and salary expectations. When his last deal with MSNBC blew up last there, some analysts speculated that CNN might make a run at Olbermann; the original cable news network has been struggling in the 8 pm time slot for years, but Time-Warner executives wanted no part of the perpetual headache that is Keith Olbermann.

Instead, the former sportscaster landed at Current TV, where he was touted as the network's signature personality. But Olbermann was angered by technical glitches and changes in leadership. In response, he began taking more time off, and eventually Current decided to fire Olbermann.

Still, the host's antics weren't the only reason he got the axe. Current has been struggling financially, and Al Gore's efforts to sell the network (or attract new investors) have been unsuccessful. Olbermann's $50 million contract represented a sizable outlay for Current, and by getting rid of him, the network will save tens of millions of dollars--even when you factor in the inevitable settlement with its former anchor.

And speaking of money, we wonder if Olby's frustrations stemmed (in part) from Current's financial condition. When he signed on with Al Gore's network, Olbermann was promised an equity share in the enterprise. Once his attorneys looked at the balance sheet, they quickly discovered there was no equity to share. Of course, if Olbermann didn't realize Current was a fiscal black hole until he signed on with the network, he needs better representation, and perhaps, a remedial math class at Cornell.

In hindsight, both Olbermann and Current got exactly what they deserve. The liberal network got the most inflated ego in the history of broadcasting, who made their existence a living hell for the past year or so. As for Olby, he was banished to a cable outlet that barely registers in the ratings--roughly akin to being the weekend sportscaster in TV market #175. Sure, the money was nice, but Olbermann essentially vanished from media and cultural relevancy. Must have been quite a blow for that monstrous ego.

While the lawyers prepare their briefs, the logical question is where Olby goes next? Quite frankly, we're not sure. He's personna non grata at the networks and major cable operations. With his departure from Current, Olbermann may have burned his last bridge, literally and figuratively. And not a moment too soon.

1 comment:

Mike Street Station said...

I think it worked out for both of them. Olbermann got another job after getting the boot from MSNBC so he didn't look like he was a loser and had options, and Current got a name to bring attention to their network.

Now the universe has snapped back to normal, and Olbermann is out of work.