In a surprise for viewers of “Countdown” Friday (1/12) on MSNBC, host Keith Olbermann announced that it would be his last show on the cable network. It was apparently a surprise for him as well, since he indicated on the air that he had learned of the decision only that day.
MSNBC had only this to say in a statement issued after Olbermann announced his departure: “Starting Monday, January 24, “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell will move to 8 p.m. ET/PT and The Ed Show, hosted by Ed Schultz, will move to 10 p.m. ET/PT on MSNBC. The announcement was made today by Phil Griffin, President of MSNBC. The Rachel Maddow Show will continue to air live at 9 p.m. ET/PT.”
The announcement came exactly one week before Comcast is set to become the majority owner of NBC Universal, which owns 82% of MSNBC. Microsoft, the “MS” part, continues to hold only 18%. It is pretty easy to surmise that the new management team coming in under Comcast looked at the stormy relationship with Olbermann and decided to say bye-bye. He still had two years remaining on his contract.
While the Olbermann-MSNBC relationship had soured over the last year, observers recall that the network was in some respects on an iron-lung life support until his arrival eight years ago. Still trailing badly in the cable news race, it is now jettisoning one of its top-rated shows.
According to the New York Times, Olbermann had been negotiating a severance agreement with NBCU for several weeks. The deal was finally cut on Friday, just before Olbermann went on the air to do a final show. It is believed that the terms of the financial settlement will keep him off television for a period of time, but he’s expected to quickly resurface on the Internet.
RBR-TVBR observation: Let’s face it; Comcast doesn’t need any more controversy after managing to calm enough nerves inside the Beltway to get the NBCU acquisition approved. But it is going to need ratings, which Olbermann – love him or hate him – was able to deliver. His abrasive nature was not the entire problem, either.
The biggie was last November when Olbermann was suspended for breaking NBC News’ rules by donating funds to various political campaigns. We questioned whether it made sense to have obviously partisan commentators like Olbermann covered by the same rules as an NBC News reporter, but that’s the current policy at NBCU. That put a wedge in the relationship between MSNBC President Phil Griffin and Olbermann, not to mention MSNBC GM Dan Abrams.
Here’s an idea for you: Roger Ailes could hire Olbermann and build a liberal counterpart to Fox News Channel, which he already runs. How about “Tiger News Channel”? Ailes and Rupert Murdoch like making money, so why not have News Corporation dominate both sides of the political spectrum?
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