Maybe Keith Olbermann should have given more thought to setting up his own outlet following his departure from MSNBC (NSDQ: CMCSA) last year. The lightning rod of an anchor was supposed to give Current.TV a jolt of viewership and energy. Instead, he’s out of the Al Gore-Joel Hyatt network after less than a year on the air—and a lot of wasted energy all around.
In a joint message featured on the front page of Current.com, Gore, the network’s chairman, and Hyatt, who took over again as CEO in recent months, tell viewers:
We created Current to give voice to those Americans who refuse to rely on corporate-controlled media and are seeking an authentic progressive outlet. We are more committed to those goals today than ever before.
Current was also founded on the values of respect, openness, collegiality, and loyalty to our viewers. Unfortunately these values are no longer reflected in our relationship with Keith Olbermann and we have ended it.
We are moving ahead by honoring Current’s values. Current has a fundamental obligation to deliver news programming with a progressive perspective that our viewers can count on being available daily—especially now, during the presidential election campaign. Current exists because our audience desires the kind of perspective, insight and commentary that is not easily found elsewhere in this time of big media consolidation.
They also introduced his replacement, former New York Gov. Eliott Spitzer, and went on at length about the wonders of an election-year Current sans Olbermann. (Safe to say, after his performance with Sean Parker at SxSW, the former VP won’t be doing his own interview show any time soon.) What they don’t really address is their own role in a hiring that seemed like a stretch when you got beyond Olbermann’s liberal status and his following.
Olbermann’s reply via Twitter was swift, a series of 11 tweets summed up in one long statement promising legal action:
I’d like to apologize to my viewers and my staff for the failure of Current TV.
Editorially, Countdown had never been better. But for more than a year I have been imploring Al Gore and Joel Hyatt to resolve our issues internally, while I’ve been not publicizing my complaints, and keeping the show alive for the sake of its loyal viewers and even more loyal staff. Nevertheless, Mr. Gore and Mr. Hyatt, instead of abiding by their promises and obligations and investing in a quality news program, finally thought it was more economical to try to get out of my contract.
It goes almost without saying that the claims against me implied in Current’s statement are untrue and will be proved so in the legal actions I will be filing against them presently. To understand Mr. Hyatt’s ‘values of respect, openness, collegiality and loyalty,’ I encourage you to read of a previous occasion Mr. Hyatt found himself in court for having unjustly fired an employee. That employee’s name was Clarence B. Cain. http://nyti.ms/HueZsa
In due course, the truth of the ethics of Mr. Gore and Mr. Hyatt will come out. For now, it is important only to again acknowledge that joining them was a sincere and well-intentioned gesture on my part, but in retrospect a foolish one. That lack of judgment is mine and mine alone, and I apologize again for it.
Olbermann and Hyatt gave every appearance of a meeting of the minds when I interviewed them together at paidContent 2011. They were still in a honeymoon phase and Olbermann, who stayed off video for several months between MSNBC and Current, was months away from launching his show. That show involved rebuilding studios, hiring a New York staff and more.
It was an attention-getting move that caused some to think again about Current and certainly hiring Olbermann put the network, which has yet to have its real break through, in the spotlight. But it also put it on the hot seat. Building a network on ideals, worth a shot. Hinging it on one volatile personality, not so much. Olbermann is right when he points to a resume that show how long he’s worked with some people and when he challenges his labeling as peripatetic. He’s also charming, amusing, incredibly bright, knows his baseball, reads James Thurber stories out loud, and has seen the Book of Mormon an unfair number of times.
But he’s also had a series of confrontations and missteps that often make the story more about him, than about any network or its goals.
Al Gore and Joel Hyatt knew that when they courted him. Whatever the reasons for the ultimate split—and I doubt it’s as one-sided as either party wants it to appear—they had to know honeymoons end.
As for Olbermann, he may miss cable networks for a while but he always has the Net.
Olbermann and Hyatt spoke at our paidContent 2011 conference, where they explained how Olbermann joining Current was a match made in heaven.