Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Keith Olbermann is back, but needs to set limits to make his show more entertaining

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John Kricfalusi is probably not a name you would normally see in this blog, but I can’t help but think of him as I watched the return of “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” on its new home on Current TV.

Kricfalusi created “Ren & Stimpy” and ran into a number of creative tug-of-war problems with Nickelodeon in the early 1990s. Kricfalusi felt he was hemmed in by Nickelodeon, and wanted more creative freedom. Unfortunately for the viewer, when Kricfalusi had the opportunity to create episodes in the way he wanted, they weren’t nearly as good as the shows were under Nickelodeon.

There was that same fear when Olbermann got more creative freedom at Current TV.

The first show was met with a few technical flaws. Tragically, the show is in SD;  just as I was about to get MSNBC in HD, the channel dumped Keith. There was a quote on the screen that was blocked by a graphic. The volume seemed really low, and the first segment was dreadfully long.  The straw poll graphic misspelled Jon Huntsman’s name, adding an extra “h” in the first name. Oh, and the show ran long, on purpose.

Once Keith speaks, we know why we sit through bad production values in SD.

Olbermann does have a point when he criticizes MSNBC for talking to Fox about the Olbermann-O’Reilly rivalry, and how big media companies unofficially don’t cover each other or their related companies. And he has a great point that corporate influence is a growing problem in news.

In interviews, Olbermann has made it clear that has had creative control. Good for him. But he needs to remember that responsibility makes for an effective show. Limits are a good thing as far as an entertaining newscast goes, but as long as those limits don’t involve corporate influence.

Olbermann told Terry Gross on “Fresh Air” why he gave those political contributions. His rationalizations sounded good, especially in that voice, but at the end, they can’t be justified.

Keith said he gave them based on threats to the candidates — laudable to those who aren’t covering the campaign, but not to those who do. Olbermann also said that he gave money after interviews and actually toward the end of the campaign. But campaigns keep going and you’re still covering the politicians. And the fact that Gabrielle Giffords was one of those politicians who got a contribution shows that limits are there for a reason.

The other limits that Olbermann struggled with at MSNBC and will likely do so on Current is this bubble or shell of liberalism. Don’t be afraid to confront those who might differ in opinion. Rachel Maddow, whom he helped get a show on MSNBC, does this quite well. And since Olbermann has made it clear, even in the 30 Rock building with Jimmy Fallon, that he wants Maddow on Current TV when she is available.

In the last 5 months, there has been a missing voice from the political media insanity. Olbermann proved this on Jimmy Fallon when he suggested that Anthony Weiner resign, then offer to run in the special election to see if the voters want him as their representative. Imagine using democracy as a solution. And Olbermann made it clear why David Vitter remained in Congress and Weiner didn’t.

“Because he’s a Republican and Republicans would never turn on one of their own. Very simple. They will stand up in this situation and the Democrats go, ‘Oh, no, we might have a controversy. We can’t possibly back this guy. The Republicans will hang it around our necks.’ They’re gonna hang it around their necks anyway. Stand up.”

And Olbermann and Michael Moore went after President Obama for extending the war effort in Libya, being actual newsmen. In fact, the most responsible journalist who has gone after Barack Obama has been Keith Olbermann.

Though it’s the first week, the technical glitches are glaring. One thing to start anew on a channel that nobody knows. But I have seen more graphics mistakes in one week than years on the previous outlet. And the show feels a little too loose; after all, if there is a show that will follow Keith in a similar fashion, won’t that host want to start on time at any point?

Freedom to do the newscast you want is a great gift, Mr. Olbermann. We know you will use that power for many sources of good to expose the truth, but do understand that you are doing a TV news show in 2011, and that show needs to look professional. We realize that this may take time on a new channel. For that, we wish you good night and good luck.

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