Keith Olbermann's Move to Current TV Offers New Beginnings
by Jeremy Taylor, posted Feb 8th 2011 4:30PM
In what Shakespeare might've described as a marriage of true minds, Keith Olbermann announced Tuesday morning that he's taking his talents to Al Gore's Current TV later this year.
But the question now is what this means for Current TV, which averages a mere 23,000 viewers a night, and what it means for the former MSNBC host.
Until 2009, Current's programming consisted only of short "pods" of news programming, some of which was viewer-generated. Since then, they have switched to a more traditional schedule of half-hour blocks, featuring re-airings of the series 'This American Life,' a variety of documentary and reality programming, and the occasional movie.
Because of its association with Gore, Current is already perceived to be left-leaning politically. This makes Olbermann, one of the most prominent left-wing voices on cable news, a good ideological fit.
It's doubtful that even half of the one million viewers who watched Olbermann nightly on MSNBC will immediately make the switch to his new show when it debuts later this year. However, the fact that Olbermann has 225,000 followers on Twitter, and an eight-year track record of being a leading advocate for liberal causes, suggests that his hiring will at the very least make Current TV into a notable cable news player.
Current now has the opportunity-- particularly if they piggyback more talent onto their Olbermann hiring -- to compete with MSNBC for the loyalty of left-leaning cable news viewers.
When Conan O'Brien made the jump to TBS, it cast the well-established cable station in a new light. By joining up with Current, Olbermann has raised a fledgling cable station up to a new level.
But Olbermann was available to Current because of his bitter split with MSNBC and has a long history of clashing with management. In 1997, he also ESPN abruptly, after making an unauthorized appearance on Comedy Central's 'The Daily Show,' in which he called his employer's headquarters a "godforsaken place." In 2001, he was fired from Fox Sports Net for reporting rumors that his parent company, News Corp., planned to sell the Los Angeles Dodgers (which they did, three years later).
Therein lies the risk for Current: They are getting themselves a first-class TV talent, with a unique voice and a dedicated following. However, they are also ceding just about all of their station's identity to a man who has a long history of not being able to get along with others.
Of course, now Olbermann is "chief news officer" at Current, so maybe playing nice won't be necessary.
As for Olbermann, he clearly knows that moving to Current means he will start with considerably fewer viewers than he had at MSNBC. Still, he seems pumped up about his new endeavor, telling reporters this morning that "nothing is more vital to my concept of a free media than news produced independently of corporate interference."
But Olbermann's bombastic style often teeters between passion and self-parody, and one wonders what will happen when he has no one to reign him in. The force of his personality could turn Current TV into The Keith Olbermann Network (watch out, Oprah).
Not that that's a bad thing; "Current TV" immediately shot to the top of Google trends, as people wanted to learn more about a channel that barely anybody watches. Much of that interest will carry over when Olbermann returns to the air on Current later this year.
And for an audience-starved network and a TV personality who has burned so many bridges -- and has long sought the journalistic freedom he will now apparently get -- this is about the best chance for a new beginning that either could ask for.