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.
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If Olbermann can bring his million or so viewers – as he has brought the title, opening music, and overall feeling of the show – from MSNBC, he’ll fulfill half of the Current’s hopes for the fiery rhetorician, says Robert Thompson, founder of the Bleier Center of Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University in New York.Skip to next paragraph
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What’s the other half?
Every upstart channel needs a show that will force people to “pick up their remotes and slog through the cable channel line-up to actually locate that channel on their system,” says Professor Thompson.
But does Olbermann have the drawing power of “Mad Men” or “Queer Eye”?
It’s too soon to know, but Olbermann says that he is “very pleased” with the first show’s ratings, and the network agrees, saying, “The feedback we've received from viewers, advertisers, and our distribution partners about Keith Olbermann's show on Current has been extremely positive."
A more-fluid media landscape?
Olbermann’s leap onto a little-known perch echoes moves by other high-profile TV figures like Oprah and Conan O’Brien. Despite his tempestuous employment history, Olbermann was well compensated for the move. While his salary remains confidential, his title is “Chief News Officer,” and he has been given an equity stake in the channel.
Not all that long ago, Levinson notes, someone fired from a lofty media seat would find few alternatives. “We are in a very revolutionary time. No longer does firing from one venue automatically mean media banishment.” As the number of outlets grows, he adds, this breadth is loosening the grip of corporate, profit-driven programming.
“I’m sure he wouldn’t sneer at profit,” says Levinson with a laugh, “but Al Gore is clearly driven by something more than money. He wants to expand the number of voices in our culture − and that is something worthwhile.”
“Keith Olbermann is a gifted thinker, an amazing talent and a powerful communicator,” Mr. Gore said when announcing Olbermann’s move to Current. “In a world where there are fewer and fewer opportunities to hear truly distinct, unfettered voices on television, we are delighted to provide Keith with the independent platform and freedom that Current can, and does uniquely offer.”