At the end of his Friday night broadcast, Keith Olbermann dropped a bomb on his viewers: “This is the last edition of Countdown.”
He was told this would be his last show. While there is no official word on what happened, when you’re told this will be your last show, it means you’re being fired.
Olbermann, the highest-rated host on MSNBC, has had a stormy relationship with the management of the network for some time, especially since he was suspended for two days last November. He came to an agreement with NBC’s corporate management late this week to settle his contract and step down.
In a closing statement on his show, Olbermann said simply that it would be the last edition of the program. He offered no explanation other than on occasion the show had become too much for him. He thanked his viewers for their enthusiastic support of a show that had “gradually established its position as antiestablishment.”
In a statement, MSNBC said: “MSNBC and Keith Olbermann have ended their contract. The last broadcast of ‘Countdown with Keith Olbermann’ will be this evening. MSNBC thanks Keith for his integral role in MSNBC’s success and we wish him well in his future endeavors.’
As a broadcaster, I can tell you without a doubt: That’s what you call “the hi-hat.” You can bet your last dollar: He was fired.
The move comes one day after Comcast bought NBC (that is, one day after it was approved by the FCC). NBC executives said the move had nothing to do with the Comcast takeover but conspiracy theorists, no doubt, are afoot.
It’s well known that both Comcast chief Brian Roberts and NBCU chief Steve Burke have donated heavily to the Republican Party. Roberts was a co-chairman of the host committee at the 2000 Republican Convention while Burke achieved Bush Ranger status for having raised at least $200,000 for George W Bush’s reelection in 2004.
The political affiliations of the Comcast brass may helped but in the end, political differences weren’t Olbermann’s downfall:
It appears that the end of the Olbermann era at MSNBC was not “ordered” by Comcast, nor was it a move to tone down the network’s politics. Instead, sources inside the network say it came down to the more mundane world of office politics–Olbermann was a difficult employee, who clashed with bosses, colleagues and underlings alike, and with the Comcast-related departure of Jeff Zucker, and the rise of Maddow and O’Donnell, the landscape shifted, making an Olbermann exit suddenly seem well-timed.
“He’s been very problematic,” say sources inside NBC about Comcast’s attitude toward Olbermann. In the end, Olbermann’s departure was not unlike the difficulties NPR had with Juan Williams; a clash of wills between management and employee. It’s an old story in broadcaster: Everyone gets fired. Often. The first time you’re fired in the broadcasting industry, someone inevitably tells you: Welcome to the business.
It was also no secret in the broadcast industry that Comcast would soon show its hand over the broadcast network (NBC) and cable (MSNBC) once the FCC gave approval. Officially, the Comcast takeover is next week, but word has been circulating for months now that the new owners wanted to “tinker” with MSNBC and had many changes in store, including a right turn on content so that it represents both political points of view more evenly.
Olbermann, who signed a four-year contract extension in 2008 for an estimated $30 million, had hosted “Countdown” since 2003. The show was the cable network’s centerpiece. He didn’t discuss any future plans but NBC executives said one term of his settlement would keep him from moving to another network for an extended period of time. In the broadcasting business, that’s called a non-compete.
MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell will move into the timeslot with his program, “The Last Word.”