Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Keith Olbermann a necessary force in journalism, but needs to find a good home

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You can tell when Keith Olbermann is about to be fired when he stops doing “World’s Worst.”

Coincidence, perhaps. But the fact that he stopped doing the segment just before being fired by MSNBC and now Current TV.

Long-time fans of my political coverage know I do like Keith Olbermann, but for those who might not have been reading me for long, well, you should know that. That being said, Olbermann is much better when he gets rolling on “Worst Person in the World.”

I’ve watched Keith on ESPN, ESPN2, Fox Sports Net, Fox, NBC, MSNBC, and now Current TV. Maybe I watched him on CNN, hard to remember. So you would think I would have loved what he was doing on Current. But his program never got the same kind of traction that it did at MSNBC.

Sometimes, too much freedom is the problem.

Yes, Current TV was amateur hour right from the first episode. Problems with graphics led to other problems, such as basic lighting. My local 24-hour cable news channel had a better setup.

Olbermann made the best of it, doing the show in the dark. That made for fun TV, but after all, it reminded you how cheap the operation was at the cable channel.

He spent his time on CBS’ “Late Show with David Letterman” blaming himself for taking the job. He didn’t speak much specifically on what happened (a number of issues are still pending), but you got a better sense of what made him miserable.

What also didn’t help was Olbermann using the anchoring of primary coverage as a way to try and get those improvements to be made. Olbermann was sick on some of the time he was gone, but there appeared to be too many awkward times where someone else was at the desk. Rachel Maddow, Olbermann’s former MSNBC colleague, pointed out that recently that she had missed 3 days in a recent span, but one of those was reporting on what became a special episode. I couldn’t keep track of how many days Keith missed.

I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt to Olbermann on why those days were missed (outside of being sick). But from the standpoint of the TV viewer, the situation looked bad. And if you are one of those people who can’t stand Olbermann, consider that he never did anything like this elsewhere, not even at ESPN.

Even on primary nights where Olbermann did anchor, the Current TV coverage wasn’t as good as MSNBC. Perhaps the GOP dominance of the agenda made the events less intriguing, but I often flipped back to MSNBC way more often than Current TV.

Yes, MSNBC was in HD and that doesn’t hurt in 2012. But the channel covered the speeches in their entirety, the analysis was layered and reasonably balanced, and Rachel Maddow is growing quite comfortable as an anchor. Olbermann would switch away from speeches, and even if you think that is a good thing, well, his replacement coverage didn’t stack up to what was being offered at his former home.

Olbermann put together an amazing list of contributors, and certainly had an influence in developing shows around him, such as The Young Turks (who started out at MSNBC) and former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm. Given that he has built up two left-leaning news outlets, Olbermann should receive some kind of liberal medal.

The Olbermann at Current TV became almost a caricature of what Olbermann made fun of when he and Bill O’Reilly had their Fox-MSNBC rivalry. The Olbermann at Current TV didn’t feel like he needed to care as much about balance. Preaching to the converted is boring; this is why Olbermann was so good at MSNBC by poking fun at O’Reilly, Hannity, and Beck.

Olbermann became obsessed with the now late Andrew Breitbart over his yelling at Occupy protesters. Breitbart deserved one, two, maybe 3 “World’s Worst,” but the mashup videos weren’t funny or entertaining. And they made Olbermann look bad, even though he was in the right.

Countdown on Current TV was Keith Olbermann getting to do what he wanted to do, and it just wasn’t as entertaining as Olbermann fighting back against the system at MSNBC.

Still, nobody was better on the Murdoch scandals than Olbermann. This was a story that needed to be pounded night after night, and nobody on this side of the pond was better. When Occupy got barely any notice or coverage from the MSM, Olbermann was on that side and brought needed attention to this story.

Keith’s personality can annoy people (not me). But that drive with a little bit of anger on some stories makes for amazing television and is vital to a thriving democracy.

At a crucial time in a presidential campaign, Olbermann doesn’t have a TV home. Olbermann made light jokes to Letterman on the subject of his future, but didn’t expand any serious thoughts. Even though he recruited and has inspired many on the air who do similar type shows, they can’t hold a candle to Olbermann when he is on his A game. But where will Keith get a chance to do that?

Option #1: Olbermann can find a cable channel that would convert to what he has envisioned. However, finding a currently (pun intended) available channel will be even more difficult, and getting a new cable channel is virtually impossible these days.

Option #2: CNN could use his star power, but as strange as this might sound, Olbermann has a better chance of getting hired on at Fox than CNN. Still, CNN might be able to find a place for him, even on election coverage.

Option #3: A weekend show at MSNBC along with being at the desk for election coverage. Going back to MSNBC might seem more impossible, but of the three major cable news channels, this is still the best home for him. The channel is beefing up its weekend news programming. Doing a weekend show might deflate Olbermann’s ego, but he is more likely to stick around. Ending a show with a special commentary would be a lot easier if he is doing 2 shows a week instead of 5. Being a weekend host would allow him to appear on other MSNBC shows AND occasionally pinch-hit as host. Plus, if he sits at the election coverage desk, Olbermann would get a chance to shine in a desperately needed area for the channel and the viewing public.

Option #4: Olbermann’s talents are many, especially his writing ability. A syndicated political column is certainly viable. While he would be great on radio, doing a audio version of Countdown wouldn’t be that interesting or viable in the marketplace. Of course, having a column or radio show could propel him to be a guest on some of the same shows he helped nuture.


2 Responses

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  1. “Olbermann put together an amazing list of contributors, and certainly had an influence in developing shows around him, such as The Young Turks (who started out at MSNBC)”

    No, not at all… TYT werent on MSNBC and have been developed by it owns…


    April 11, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    • Yes, Cenk was on MSNBC and that is where he became more well-known to TV audiences.


      April 11, 2012 at 5:48 pm

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