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Tempest in a Twitterpot: Why Keith Olbermann generated such a fuss

Keith Olbermann transported his signature show from MSNBC to the little-watched Current TV, almost quadrupling their ratings – and setting off a twitterstorm by running long.

By Staff writer / June 21, 2011

In this 2007 file photo, Keith Olbermann poses at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif. In his first night on Current TV, Olbermann raised their 8 p.m. ratings from 50,000 to 179,000 viewers, according to internal numbers.

Mark J. Terrill / AP / File

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Los Angeles

Former MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann is back, having transported his signature show – mostly intact − to Current TV, the cable channel co-founded in 2005 by former Vice President Al Gore.

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And he brought at least some of his viewers with him on his first night out. Among adults 25 to 54 – a sought-after advertiser demographic – Current TV had 179,000 viewers Monday night, according to their own figures. By comparison, MSNBC had 237,000 viewers in that demographic, and CNN had 89,000.

After nearly half a year off the air, “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” debuted in the 8 p.m. slot Monday night. The show ran a few minutes late, thus overlapping with his former MSNBC colleague, Rachel Maddow. Her fans tweeted their disapproval. Heated rounds of digital dustup ensued.

What better way to come back to the air than with a tiny tempest in the Twitterpot?

This Twitter fuss is a gift to the marketing department at Current TV, says Paul Levinson, a media professor at Fordham University.

Current TV needs all the help it can get, he adds. While it is currently available in some 60 million US homes, via most major cable carriers, its programming has failed to attract meaningful audiences. The 8 p.m. slot has been averaging some 50,000 viewers, so Monday night’s ratings represent a massive jump.

“Picking up Olbermann was a very bright move for Current,” says Professor Levinson. The show “transplanted seamlessly,” he says, which indicates that Mr. Olbermann brought MSNBC success, not vice versa.

Olbermann brings "street cred" to Current TV, says Tim Massie, adjunct professor of communications at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York.

“A network needs a marquee name or program. Fox has Bill O'Reilly, MSNBC still had Rachel Maddow, but Current had no one on camera. Their biggest claim to fame was Al Gore's behind-the-scenes involvement,” Professor Massie adds via email. Controversy creates news, he says, adding that media dustups gain traction among other media.

What Current wants from Olbermann

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