Can Keith Olbermann finally convince viewers to watch Al Gore’s struggling cable network?
Olbermann will launch a new nightly primetime news and commentary show later this year on the net, which is currently in 60 million U.S. households. The pundit is exuberantly described in the official Current press release as an “acclaimed broadcaster and writer whose verbal pyrotechnics and moral passion have outraged, informed, and dazzled viewers of Countdown With Keith Olbermann for the past eight years” who is “bringing his slashing wit, analytical eye, and distinctive commentary” to the network.
“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 produced independently of corporate interference,” said Olbermann, who will also serve as the network’s “Chief News Officer” and will have an equity stake in the company. “In Current Media, Al Gore and Joel Hyatt have created the model truth-seeking entity.”
In a conference call with reporters, Olbermann added: “None of this should be directed at my nine full-time previous employers — there is nothing wrong with people making money and corporations being involved in covering information – provided there is an avenue in which those marketing forces are not the deciding factor in what we are doing. Current is not only the leading independent network, it’s the only one. To underscore and support that is my great privilege.”
Asked by a reporter to elaborate on how he was stifled at previous jobs, Olbermann said, “I don’t want to imply that there were massive repressive forces working against individual stories. This is the time for me in my career to continue to evolve, to continue to do a better job, and what is required is an opportunity to work in a much more pristine environment. Not to criticize what is being done elsewhere.”
Olbermann said there’s at least one thing from Countdown that he’d like to revive on his new, yet-to-be-named show. Will it be ”Worst Person in the World?” ”There may be a segment that resembles that in structure and in tone, but it won’t be called the ‘Worst Person in the World,’” he said. However busy he’ll be with the new gig, Olbermann seemed to leave open the possibility that he would be willing to consult on Aaron Sorkin’s HBO pilot about a cable news network show.
“Aaron called me up and asked me about it two years ago. Of course, he also called me up the first time to talk about a sports show. Did that ever get on the air?” Olbermann said, laughing. “Not to dismiss his work, I love him to death, but that would be a hobby, a sidebar kind of thing.” He stressed that he wouldn’t do such a writing gig fulltime.
Current TV co-founders Al Gore and Joel Hyatt indicated that hiring Olbermann is the first step in a plan to build a primetime commentary block on the network, a move that presumably will make it more competitive with the major cable news networks. Current TV can use all the help it can get — ratings are so modest they’re not even ranked in Nielsen’s daily cable charts (they receive private monthly ratings reports direct from Nielsen, but these are not made available to ratings subscribers). Gore insisted during the teleconference that Current is profitable.
“Olbermann signature is intelligent commentary. He is truly one of the unfettered voices on TV,” Gore told reporters. “Keith is one of those rare voices, his voice is truly unique. We’re delighted to provide Keith with the independent platform. Current is the perfect home for Keith.”
Asked about Olbermann getting suspended from MSNBC over political donations, Gore made it clear that such contributions won’t be a problem at Current TV — as long as the host is transparent about it: “We believe at Current that every citizen has the freedom of speech and freedom of speech includes the ability to donate to candidates of your choice. But as a news and information organization, we also believe in full disclosure of that to inform the viewers.”
In a statement released earlier in the day, Hyatt had this to say about their newest asset: “Keith Olbermann is one of our society’s most courageous talents. He speaks truth to power. He calls them as he sees them. He speaks his mind. Our society needs his kind of thoughtful analysis and commentary. Keith Olbermann is not afraid of dissenters. In his long and impressive career, he has developed a massive following of intelligent, informed people who enjoy a good debate and smart conversation. We welcome Keith and we also look forward to welcoming his fans as new Current TV viewers.”