A year after Keith Olbermann hooked up with Al Gore’s struggling Current TV, the peripatetic news anchor once again is out of a job.
Having locked horns with the 53-year-old newsman for months, Current founders Al Gore and Joel Hyatt on Friday ended the $50 million Olbermann experiment. Effective immediately, former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer will assume Olbermann’s 8 p.m. time slot, serving as host of a one-hour program titled Viewpoint With Eliot Spitzer.
While Current did not explicitly give cause for firing Olbermann, the co-founders were clearly fed up with his antagonistic behavior. In a note to viewers, Gore and Hyatt said that Olbermann failed to live up to the network’s guiding principles of “respect, openness, collegiality and loyalty,” adding that as “these values are no longer reflected in our relationship with Keith Olbermann…we have ended it.”
In a statement posted to his Twitter account, Olbermann said he wished to “apologize to my viewers and my staff for the failure of Current TV,” before going on to charge the co-founders with negligence. “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,” Olbermann said.
He went on to say that he would seek legal recourse: “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.”
Olbermann was brought into the Current fold in February 2011, signing on as chief news officer mere days after he was fired by MSNBC. Countdown premiered June 20.
At the time, Current hoped Olbermann would help juice the channel’s distribution efforts and power ratings. Nothing doing—in the first quarter of 2012, Current was one of the least-watched channels on television, averaging 58,000 total viewers in prime, of which a mere 20,000 were members of the 25-to-54 and 18-to-49 demos.
Current’s ratings are only slightly less anemic than those delivered by Fox Business Network in prime (51,000 viewers). In total-day deliveries, FBN in Q1 beat Current by a margin of 30,000 viewers, although the latter prevailed in the demos (12,000 to 11,000 among adults 18-49 and 12,000 to 9,000 among the 25-to-54 set).
Olbermann also didn’t dramatically move the affiliate needle. Current is available in 65.8 million households, slightly more than the 60 million homes it reached before Olbermann joined the venture.
According to SNL Kagan data, Current last year took in just $115 million in revenue, thanks in large part to its carriage fee (12 cents per subscriber per month). Ad sales revenue accounts for less than $25 million of the total haul.
Gore last year made light of Olbermann’s reputation, joking he feared the 8 p.m. show might not catch fire with viewers as “Keith is so shy.” Since then, Olbermann waged a series of private and public skirmishes with management, including a beef over air time that got him sidelined during Current’s coverage of the New Hampshire primary.
Current president David Bohrman in January said that Olbermann was asked to serve as the channel’s sole anchor and executive producer of its primary and caucus coverage, but “he declined.” Olbermann fumed when his show was bounced on Jan. 3 in favor of a four-hour block of prime-time coverage hosted by Gore, Jennifer Granholm and The Young Turks.
“We tried several times to have Keith participate in our coverage,” Bohrman said. In firing back, Olbermann all but called Bohrman a liar: “I was never given a legitimate opportunity to host under acceptable conditions,” he said. “They know it and we know it.”
In the weeks after the primary feud, Olbermann was absent a number of times, missing work for a few days in February and March.
In the days after Olbermann’s new gig was first announced, a former colleague told Adweek that the anchor’s clinical disinterest in money made him all but impossible to control.
“He’s not like everyone else in New York, with the wives to support and the kids in private schools,” the source said. “That’s what makes Keith who he is. Money doesn’t mean that much to him at all, which really gives him the freedom to just go into the boss’ office and say, ‘Fuck you, fire me.’”