Conservatives and Management Beware: Keith Olbermann is Out There

From the perspective of someone who has ‘been there, done that’ I would respectfully like to add my 3-cents (adjusted for inflation) worth to the Jason Easley, Keith Olbermann Current TV ‘firing’ story.

I was a long-time TV and radio bindlestiff having wandered to assorted TV news and talk radio venues, small, medium and large.

Most of the truly controversial stuff was on talk radio, though I’d occasionally brush up against a TV story of corporate mischief that the upper management types didn’t exactly love. But trust me when I say I’ve walked in Olbermann’s shoes albeit on a much smaller scale. I was once sued for $4 million in a talk show libel case. I won with the best defense imaginable. What I said was true.

Let’s get one thing straight from the get-go. Olbermann is a grade-A a-hole. From his sports broadcasting days to MSNBC to Current-TV, he’s always been considered a supremely arrogant, know-it- all, d**k-head by management, colleagues and staffers alike.

But, there are two sides to every story, even this one.

Hatred of management is ingrained in Olbermann’s DNA partially because of the business makeup of the media. Management, by definition, has an entirely different agenda than talent. They’re a bottom line bunch that couldn’t remotely do what on-air people do. For management, it’s about the almighty dollar and NOTHING else. When I first got into the business of radio and TV, I was paid a pittance. It wasn’t until years later that I realized ratings and revenues had skyrocketed in some of my early venues. And I didn’t get squat while I’m sure management raked in some mighty fine sales commissions and bonuses. Management will ‘ef’ young (and older) talent whenever they get the chance. I once left a station for about a year-and-a-half. Circumstances were such that I returned. The guy I replaced lost virtually all my ratings and upon resuming my old show I was paid about 40% more than when I left. I figured that’s what I left on the table the first time around.

When management finally realizes they no longer have a naïve sucker on their hands, they will pay decent money. At Current, Olbermann was getting decent money; $10 million a year for five years.  He was even accorded a title, ‘Chief News Officer’ and an equity stake in the company. What Olbermann perceived he wasn’t getting was free reign and a professional organization. He hated the set and thought some of the extra duties he was asked to perform were inane and beneath him. He started missing work and arguing about assignments. His presence became intolerable to upper (middle & lower) management and he was canned, Friday, March 30th. Ironically, Comcast, the same company that fired Olbermann at MSNBC has a 10% stake in Current. Comcast had nothing to do with an earlier and largely forgotten firing of Olbermann in 2008 as a Special Events News Anchor.

Current TV has been around since 2005 and is available in 65 million American homes. It was founded by Al Gore and the man behind Hyatt Legal Services, Joel Hyatt.

Current has some of the smartest people and most compelling programming in the cable universe. Vanguard is an under-recognized enterprise reporting show that features stories from some of the most troubled and dangerous parts of the globe. Its young reporting and producing staff are talented and fearless. “50 Documentary’s to see before you die” is another superb effort. Current’s political commentary lineup of Cenk Uygur, Jennifer Granholm and newcomers, Bill Press and the redoubtable talk show host, Stephanie Miller gives the network a solid nucleus, ever the equal of bully O’Reilly and clueless Hannity from Fox. Now they’re bringing in Eliot Spitzer to replace Olbermann. Spitzer briefly hosted  a ‘now you see it, now you don’t’ show on CNN in mid-2011. I doubt we’ll see a ratings spike unless Eliot brings in Ashley Dupre to co-host.

Gore/Hyatt fired Olbermann after the MSNBC release for much the same reasons that Current let him go, less the rise of Rachel Maddow and the ‘political contributions’ flap. According to Current, he supposedly lacked “respect, openness, collegiality and loyalty.” End of statement…end of job.

Current TV has pathetic ratings numbers. According to the latest Adweek figures, their prime time viewership is 58,000 without  a great showing in the coveted young adult demographic. “TV by the numbers” shows Bill O’Reilly by contrast drawing as many as 3.5 million 8PM viewers. Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell pace the prime-time MSNBC lineup with roughly 1.1 million nightly viewers. Annual ad sales for Current TV are $25 million, extraordinarily low for a cable network with their reach. Most of their money comes from a carriage fee of 12 cents per month per subscriber. I think their very survival might be in serious question.

Not surprisingly, Olbermann has tweeted that he’s prepared to sue Current’s parent company, Hyatt, Gore and probably everybody at else at Current including the cleaning crew. I’ll sort of miss Olbermann, but I’ve always thought he wasted entirely too much time on his feuds with O’Reilly and Fox News. I couldn’t care less about anything Fox does. I guess there is a point that when they distort an issue beyond recognition, you have straighten things out, but bothering to mention the names of their commentators really shouldn’t enter into the equation very often. I do it mostly for comparison sakes and to show what a threat these people really are, but I think my prime goal is facts and information, not giving lying treasonous fools more media time.

There’s never a clean break when you hire and inevitably fire a Keith Olbermann. You’ll tire of his infantile, self-centered antics or he’ll tire of taking orders from people hired to give orders. Where does Olbermann go from here? A national radio talk show is a possibility. Some syndicator might take the chance or he might forge his own media way through Keith Olbermann Inc.

Conservatives and management beware – KO is out there somewhere!



3 Replies to “Conservatives and Management Beware: Keith Olbermann is Out There”

  1. Unlike the likes of Rush Limbaugh, he still has some options left. You mentioned talk radio, but Oberman is too liberal to get their attention (and money)

    His choices are pay cable like HBO (Bill Maher has done well there) or Satellite radio, like Howard Stern. Without sponsors riding management, and, in turn, riding Oberman, he’d have to shape up or ship out. He’d even have to fund the start-up program himself, meaning the capital to produce the show would need to come out of his pocket.

    The only other option beyond this would require that he start a blog (doable) but would still require advertising. If he got too controversial, he’d end up losing that.

  2. I hadn’t thought about radio, that is indeed a possibility. Although there is significantly less interest in liberal radio compared to conservative. Satellite is probably the more likely avenue if he should choose to go to radio. I also hadn’t considered HBO (as Swiggy commented about). I guess the real question on Olbermann’s future is how robust is his core audience? If he was average less than 200,000 viewers that is not nearly as compelling as his 1 million viewers at MSNBC. Combine that with yet another burned bridge and it might be a while before Olbermann has another show…unless he builds something from the ground up.

  3. What bothers me about Olbermann is his arrogance towards staff. This is a guy that is “suppose” to speak to the underdog, except it doesn’t apply to him. He was fired from MSNBC for some comment he made and his arrogance, but he was fired from Current TV solely based on his arrogance.
    Being removed, fired for arrogance one time is okay, but twice?? That’s it for me, wherever he goes, whatever he does, he has burned the bridge to me. He is no better than Rush in his ego. Having worked in the TV business for years myself, and dealing with on-air news egos: enough is enough. Please crawl into the oblivion you so richly deserve.

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