Beyond Twitter, Where Keith Olbermann Could Land

By Gail Shister Comment

Phil Griffin & Keith Olbermann at Countdown's 5th anniversary party in 2008.

Whither goest Keith Olbermann?

Though his separation agreement with MSNBC keeps Olbermann off TV for at least six months, it hasn’t stopped rampant speculation about the irascible ‘Countdown’ anchor’s next field of battle place of employment.

Given his nuclear departures from ESPN, Fox Sports and MSNBC (twice), Olbermann’s choices may be limited. Regardless, one popular scenario making the rounds has him going to HBO, where he would create a weekly show to be paired with Bill Maher’s ‘Real Time.’

Premium cable — virgin territory for Olbermann — could end up being the perfect fit for the self-righteous leftie. His politics are compatible with those of Maher, albeit louder, taller and far less subtle.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he [Olbermann] lands at HBO for 2012,” says fellow MSNBC exile David Shuster in an email. “He and Bill Maher would be an interesting combination. I would definitely watch, though I already watch Maher to begin with.”

Robert Thompson of Syracuse University’s Center for the Study of Popular Television, who describes Olbermann’s style as “news journalism in the jazz idiom,” is equally intrigued by the possibility of a tandem with Maher on HBO.

“It’s definitely do-able,” Thompson says. “HBO already has the model and slot to put him in. Olbermann might find it a relief to be on only once a week. And because HBO is not a news network, he wouldn’t always have to be ‘making a statement.’”

Also, with no pesky constraints on language, Olbermann’s “Special Comments” could spin into postal territory. It’s a location he visits frequently with management. To put it another

way, when it comes to his bosses, Olberman invariably becomes kryptonite.

“Keith has always had a complex relationship with management because he’s such an independent thinker,” MSNBC president Phil Griffin told this reporter in a 2007 interview that would turn out to be prescient.

“He’s defiant. He’s challenged authority all his life. He’s always gotten himself into predicaments. He wasn’t happy, and that made him challenge his bosses even more.”

Former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, who Tuesday joined MSNBC as a regular political contributor, is an Olbermann fan, saying he “changed the nature of MSNBC.”

Rendell’s name had been floated as a Olbermann replacement on the full-time roster, but he says he’s too busy. Besides, the two-term Philadelphia mayor says, “I just don’t want to live in New York, not that anybody has asked me.”

As part of his two-year deal, Rendell will appear on MSNBC three to four times a week, including once a week on set in New York. He’ll also do CNBC’s “Squawk Box” weekly; “Meet the Press” four to five times a year; and other NBC shows such as “Today” and “NBC Nightly News” on an as-needed basis.

Rendell won’t confirm it, but CNN, Fox News Channel and CBS showed interest, according to industry sources. He went with NBC because its platforms “have the greatest reach.”

Aside from possibly running for president himself some day, Rendell says his only political ambition is to manage someone else’s campaign. His candidate of choice: Hillary Clinton in 2016.