Some Thoughts About Olbermann's Exit From Opposite Sides of the Internet

January 22nd, 2011 11:21 AM

The internet has been all abuzz since Keith Olbermann's surprise announcement that Friday would be his last appearance on MSNBC's "Countdown."

Over at the liberal website Salon, Steve Kornacki wondered, "Is Olbermann the victim of his own success?":

MSNBC, for its part, embraced the identity Olbermann was offering them. By 2008, his frequent guest, Rachel Maddow, was given her own show at 9 p.m. And liberal radio host Ed Schultz was given his own shortly after that. Lawrence O’Donnell, another left-of-center voice, was added just a few months ago. Eventually, the network adopted a new motto -- "Lean forward" -- that’s about as subtle as Fox’s "fair and balanced" pledge. MSNBC’s prime-time lineup is now awash in progressive politics. [...]

Of course, now that he’s surrounded by similar voices, Olbermann isn’t nearly as essential to MSNBC’s brand, which surely has something to do with his abrupt departure on Friday night...Now that they’ve built a loyal prime-time audience of left-leaning viewers, NBC’s executives may simply feel that they can afford to be rid of Olbermann and all of the headaches he brings with him. It used to be that he was the only reason liberals turned on their channel at night. Now he’s one of many reasons -- a victim of his own success, in other words.

Hot Air's Ed Morrissey doesn't agree:

Other than Maddow, whom Olbermann most certainly discovered and nurtured into a parallel show, the other people in the lineup had careers in broadcasting before Olbermann.  Larry O’Donnell, who will replace Olby in the 8 pm ET slot, has been around NBC for years as a talking head, having also worked on Capitol Hill and as a writer and producer on NBC’s West Wing, for which he won an Emmy.  Ed Schultz came out of the sparse liberal talk-radio circuit (as was Maddow, who survived the Air America train wreck).

Olbermann may have set the tone for MSNBC’s prime time, but that didn’t come because he took over the hour of programming, commando-style, and refused to leave the set until MSNBC decided to get partisan.  MSNBC made that decision themselves when they hired and then rehired Olbermann.  The actual strategy decision to go full-tilt to the left rather than present some notion of balance was made years ago, which Kornacki again credits to Olbermann without much evidence.

Actually, I'd take this a step further as I'm not sure you can consider what Olbermann and MSNBC have achieved with their prime time lineup a success.

Is getting absolutely destroyed in the ratings night after night success?

Certainly, MSNBC's numbers have improved in the past couple of years, but I'm not sure going from last to a very distant second in a three man race is something to brag about.

As I noted Saturday, I doubt the folks at Comcast, who as of last Tuesday have actual ownership of MSNBC, feel averaging 834,000 viewers per hour during extended prime time is all that spectacular when Fox News is doing almost 2 million.

But Morrissey offered an interesting speculation about Olbermann's future writing, "A return to sports might be in the offing, although with bridges burned at both ESPN and NBC and his years-long animus towards Fox, there aren’t many options there either."

A self-proclaimed media insider made the same observation at the far-left website Daily Kos Friday:

It will happen (so I'm told) on the channel now known as Versus. It's a sports channel owned by Comcast, and the story I'm hearing is that it will be rebranded as NBC Sportschannel once the takeover is complete, with Keith as its star personality. 

If Comcast was going to move Olbermann to its own sports channel, why would they humiliate him this way first?

Further refuting this speculation is that according to the New York Post, the former "Countdown" host was offered his full multi-million dollar salary throughout the remainder of his contract to leave. If he were just being moved to another Comcast property, wouldn't they have renegotiated his existing contract rather than buying him out?

Whatever the answer, as the late Ed Hart used to say, we will know where Olbermann ends up in the fullness of time.