MSNBC Drops Olbermann


Sources insisted the split had nothing to do with the FCC's approval of the Comcast-NBCU deal. That said, Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts may have subtly tipped his hand on the controversial Olbermann back in May 2010. When former News Corp president and COO Peter Chernin asked Roberts what course of action he might take were Olbermann to start taking potshots at Republican pols, the Comcast chief replied that he would take pains to ensure that NBC News would "keep [its coverage] down the middle, whatever that means."

In the same forum, which took place at the 2010 Cable Show in Los Angeles, Roberts gushed over NBC News, calling it "the most awesome asset" in the Peacock's portfolio, adding that the news operations would "help define Comcast."

The split comes just two months after MSNBC briefly suspended Olbermann for donating money to three Democrats involved in key mid-term election races. Coincidentally, one of the pols to whom Olbermann gave material support was Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, who on Jan. 8 was seriously wounded in an assasiination attempt in Tucson.

While Olbermann certainly enjoyed antagonising his adversaries, using his nightly program as a catapult from which to fire upon rivals like Fox News' Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck, radio host Rush Limbaugh and pretty much every G.O.P. pol of note, he was also the biggest draw for MSNBC and helped position the channel as the No. 2 news net behind FNC. In other words, despite his reputation as a scourge of Republicans and network brass alike, Olbermann was BMOC at MSNBC, and was largely responsible for MSNBC's ratings growth.

On Thursday night at 8 p.m., Olbermann delivered 1.11 million viewers, nearly doubling the turnout for CNN's Parker-Spitzer (522,000). As is generally the case, O'Reilly steamrolled over his competition, averaging 2.92 million viewers in the same time slot.