March 30, 2012, 4:48 pm
Current TV Dismisses Keith Olbermann
By BRIAN STELTER
Updated Current TV said Friday afternoon that it had terminated the contract of its lead anchor, Keith Olbermann, scarcely a year after he was hired to reboot the fledgling channel in his progressive political image.
Starting Friday night, the former New York governor Eliot Spitzer will take over Mr. Olbermann’s 8 p.m. time slot, according to a letter to viewers. His program will be titled “Viewpoint With Eliot Spitzer.”
Mr. Olbermann did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Current indicated that he had failed to honor the terms of his five-year, $50 million contract, giving the channel the right to terminate it.
In the letter, the channel’s founders, Al Gore and Joel Hyatt, wrote on Friday: “We created Current to give voice to those Americans who refuse to rely on corporate-controlled media and are seeking an authentic progressive outlet. We are more committed to those goals today than ever before. Current was also founded on the values of respect, openness, collegiality, and loyalty to our viewers. Unfortunately these values are no longer reflected in our relationship with Keith Olbermann and we have ended it.”
Mr. Olbermann will not be given an opportunity to sign off.
This will be Mr. Spitzer’s second shot at an 8 p.m. talk show; in 2010, two years after he resigned the governorship after admitting to his involvement in a prostitution ring, he led a short-lived show on CNN. It was cancelled in mid-2011.
“We are confident that our viewers will be able to count on Governor Spitzer to deliver critical information on a daily basis,” Mr. Gore and Mr. Hyatt wrote in the letter to viewers.
With those words — “on a daily basis” — the founders of Current hinted at one of the reasons for Mr. Olbermann’s termination. It was the culmination, at least in part, of months of infighting between the famously temperamental Mr. Olbermann and his bosses at Current, including Mr. Hyatt, and David Bohrman, the channel’s president.
The fighting spilled out into public view in January after Mr. Olbermann declined Current’s requests to host special hours of election coverage, apparently out of frustration about technical difficulties that had plagued his 8 p.m. program, “Countdown.”
In January and February, Mr. Olbermann continued to miss many days of work, as he himself acknowledged on his popular Twitter feed. He attributed some of his absences to throat problems.
But Current considered some of those absences to be breaches of his contract, labeling them “unauthorized absences,” according to a person familiar with the matter.
For instance, he took a vacation day on March 5, on the eve of the Super Tuesday primary election day, despite a warning from Current that it would constitute a breach of contract, according to the person, who insisted on anonymity.
The decision to dismiss Mr. Olbermann was unanimous among the senior managers of Current, the person said. Mr. Hyatt and Mr. Bohrman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Fourteen months ago, Mr. Olbermann abruptly left MSNBC, where he had worked for the prior eight years. There, he nearly single-handedly gave the channel an identity as a liberal counterweight to Fox News, but he also alienated staff members and crossed NBC executives by donating to Democratic politicians.
Executives at MSNBC had no public reaction on Friday to Mr. Olbermann’s departure from another channel.
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