Tuesday, February 8, 2011

An independent platform and a voice of reason

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The Olbermann Show?

Keith Olbermann is gearing up for a return to prime-time television.  Two days after a Green Bay Super Bowl victory marred by Christina Aguilera's National Anthem fiasco, the announcement today about Olbermann joining Current TV is welcome and refreshing news.

"Nothing is more vital to a free America than a free media, and nothing is more vital to my concept of a free media than news that is produced independently of corporate interference," said Olbermann, who will host a prime-time news and commentary show for Current TV, similar to his former MSNBC Countdown program, starting in the spring.

You may recall that Olbermann left MSNBC very abruptly last month following his suspension in 2010 by MSNBC for making campaign contributions to Democratic candidates. Olbermann's departure, announced at the end of his Jan. 21 broadcast, came just days before Comcast took over control of NBC Universal. Ironically, Comcast owns a 10 percent stake in Current TV. According to published reports, Current TV said it will allow Olbermann to make political donations.

Keith Olbermann /
From Countdown
to Current TV
Current TV, a privately-held and independently-owned media company co-founded by former vice president Al Gore, currently averages about 23,000 viewers during evening prime time, not exactly appointment TV numbers. This pales in comparison to the 1 million views who tuned in nightly to watch Olbermann host Countdown during the past eight years on MSNBC. Current TV is available in about 60 million homes, mostly on a cable digital tier or satellite basis, while MSNBC transmits to about 95 million homes and is usually part of a basic cable package and also airs on satellite.

OK, I'll admit it, Current TV is a forgotten channel in my household and I had to pull up our DirecTV program guide to find its location (Current TV airs on Ch. 358 on DirecTV). However, with the acerbic Olbermann coming on board in the near future, I just might have to rethink my weeknight viewing habits, which already include The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report.

The liberal-minded ownership of Current TV is banking on Olbermann as an investment in its future.  According to the New York Times, Olbermann will also have an equity stake in Current TV as well as a management role as its chief news officer. He will be tasked with helping develop new programs and be an editorial mentor to the channel's journalists.

In a published statement, Gore said: "We are delighted to provide Keith with an independent platform and freedom that Current can and uniquely offers."

Personally, I've been a big fan of Olbermann's for a long time going back to his days as an anchor on ESPN's SportsCenter. He taught sports fans across the country a whole new vernacular for the game. We share similar interests, including a love of baseball, history and media, and we're of a similar age (early 50s).  He writes a blog, Baseball Nerd for MLB.com. His "Special Comments" segments during his tenure on Countdown were always passionate, literate, at times biting, but always thought-provoking.

Keith Olbermann /
A born talker blessed with a
voice that was made for TV
During the build-up to the 2008 presidential election and in the months that followed, Countdown became "must-see TV" in our household, not only for its civic and political news value ~ and its ability to hold all points of view, especially those blathered by Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, accountable ~ but also for its voice, peppered with cultural, historical and sports references, which allowed Olbermann's literary wit (he enjoyed quoting Thurber) and wisdom to flourish.  The man is a born talker and is blessed with a voice that was made for television.  By the end of each show, I felt like not only had I gained valuable lessons and insights about our democracy, but also was treated to a dose of topical and witty humor along the way.

If Olbermann is able to mimic Countdown in his new yet-to-be-named gig ~ and chances are good that he will be allowed to by Gore & Co. ~ Current TV is banking that viewers will follow. And, if Olbermann gets to be a little louder along the way without worrying about corporate meddling, all the better.

1 comment:

  1. A little louder, yes, bring it on! I'm glad Mr. Olbermann has a new TV home. Didn't realize Comcast had a minority stake in Current TV. Nice writeup, Mike!