Olbermann’s Deal Will Pay $30M Over Four Years

By Chris Ariens 

Gail Shister
TVNewser Columnist

There are two words guaranteed to make MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann break his longstanding personal policy against voting – Chris Matthews.

If, as expected, the “Hardball” host runs against Sen. Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania in 2010, Olbermann says: “I would definitely suspend my symbolism and vote for him.”

Color us skeptical. Those two Alpha-males looked like they were about to throw down at the Democratic convention.

“I like Chris,” Olbermann insists. “I think he approaches his job like a public servant. He has a genuinely naïve ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’ commitment to making good things happen in this country.” (One difference: Matthews filibusters every day.)

Olbermann can afford to feel generous. He just signed a four-year contract extension through the next presidential election cycle, MSNBC announced Monday. Estimated value: $30 million. His previous deal was to have run through 2011.

In addition to hosting the network’s crown jewel, “Countdown,” Olbermann will play a major role in MSNBC’s coverage of major news events and will do two “Countdown” specials a year for NBC. He’ll also continue co-hosting its Sunday-night football studio show.

Olbermann and MSNBC started talking about a new contract over the summer, he says. “We essentially finalized it at the end of August. It was delayed, overdue, pushed aside for obvious political reasons” until after the election.

As for his not voting, Olbermann calls it “a stupid, symbolic sportscaster thing. ‘Don’t bet on a game you’re covering.’ I just like to distance myself. There’s some place I should be neutral.

“I could conceivably not take a political stance in my work, but that’s not going to happen. My commentary is much more valuable to the process than my vote. On an à la carte basis, I have fulfilled my responsibility on a civic level.”

He would make an exception, he says, if he lived in a swing state. He never has.

Olbermann’s position drew fire from the women of “The View” Monday. He compares the visit to “sitting in a blender for 10 minutes, and I mean that in the nicest way possible. Five people were asking me questions at the same time.”

If he’s invited back, “I’ll sleep for 48 hours before I go.”

Not that Olbermann is complaining. Barbara Walters “is just a delight,” and he’s known Whoopi Goldberg since 1999, when he taped five episodes of her “Hollywood Squares.” In one day. His fondest memory: “We had booze with lunch.”

Moving on, Olbermann says he agrees with Stephen Colbert’s assessment of MSNBC’s new ‘It’ girl, Rachel Maddow, as “the queen of cable.”

“Given the lack of success of women as anchors in prime time, it may not be far from true. There are only two: Greta [van Susteren of Fox News Channel] and Rachel. (Paging Campbell Brown.)

It’s been made more difficult for women, mostly through the actions of men.”

Not so for Maddow, however. Olbermann has been her champion from the start.

“People automatically like her,” he says. “She’s very nice, aggressively nice. I’m nice when I take the time to remember to be nice. Sometimes the door opens and I throw a punch.”

Speaking of punches, Olbermann says he would crush his nemesis, Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, in an arm wrestling match.

“He’d never do it, because every time we’re in the same place, he keeps himself 25 feet away, but I’m ready to go. I do yoga, work out three times a week. I think I could take him if it comes to that.”