Keith Olbermann was MSNBC's most popular personality and single-handedly led its transformation to an outspoken, left-leaning cable news network in prime time. Despite that, he often seemed to be walking on a tightrope with his job. Friday night, it snapped.
Olbermann returned from one last commercial break on "Countdown" to tell viewers it was his last broadcast, and read a James Thurber short story in a three-minute exit statement. Simultaneously, MSNBC e-mailed a statement that "MSNBC and Keith Olbermann have ended their contract." The network thanked him and said, "we wish him well in his future endeavors."
Neither MSNBC President Phil Griffin, Olbermann nor his manager responded to requests to explain an exit so abrupt that Olbermann's face was still being featured on an MSNBC promotional ad 30 minutes after he had said goodbye.
The shock and awe was apparent in our household as well as everywhere else online I reached for details. Josh Marshall, who had been on the program in the first segment, was no less taken aback than everyone else.
No leaks, even with what must have been a late-in-the-day decision. They all kept a damn good secret, didn't they?
Various reports have Olbermann being let go because of Comcast's swallowing of NBC Universal earlier in the week, that he got fired because he said no to another extension of his contract ($30 million for four years, signed in 2008 to make sure he was with the network through the 2012 election), and/or that he quit because Jeff Zucker was also shown the door in the wake of the Comcast-NBC merger. Anderson Cooper led his 9 pm (Central) broadcast on CNN with the news and reaction, most of it indicating that KO's mercurial personality had as much to do with his departure as anything else.
I would believe any of those versions. I would also observe that one thing MSNBC has been very good at over the years is throwing out their top talent if it doesn't toe their line. See Donahue, Phil and Banfield, Ashleigh and Shuster, David for evidence.
I'm a huge fan and I'll miss Countdown, but I'm not too concerned about KO's future and not just because money isn't the be-all-and-end-all for the dude (MSNBC is paying him his remaining contracted $14 mil). In six months -- after his non-compete expires -- he'll have an hour on Oprah's network, or HBO or someplace else where they aren't afraid of the brutal truth. He'll be wielding another very large, very loud megaphone, tormenting the Right into another derangement syndrome simply by relentlessly exposing their lies and hypocrisy.
And the same goes for Maddow, and Schultz and O'Donnell and Seder and Uyger and Stein and ...
Enjoy your sabbatical, Keith, and we'll see you when you get back.
Friday’s separation agreement between MSNBC and Mr. Olbermann includes restrictions on when he can next lead a television show and when he can give interviews about the decision to end his association with the news channel.
The decision was completed one year to the day from the last time NBC decided to end a relationship with an on-air star: Conan O’Brien. Mr. O’Brien agreed in the deal not to start up a new television show for nine months, and not to grant interviews for five months. The executives involved in the discussions with Mr. Olbermann said his agreement was not dissimilar to Mr. O’Brien’s.