By Bill Carter, The New York Times : 21 January 11
Keith Olbermann, the highest-rated host on MSNBC, announced abruptly on the air Friday night that he was leaving his show, "Countdown," immediately.
The host, who has had a stormy relationship with the management of the network for some time, especially since he was suspended for two days last November, came to an agreement with NBC's corporate management late this week to settle his contract and step down.
In a closing statement on his show, Mr. Olbermann said simply that it would be the last edition of the program. He offered no explanation other than on occasion the show had become too much for him.
Mr. Olbermann thanked his viewers for their enthusiastic support of a show that had "gradually established its position as antiestablishment."
In a statement, MSNBC said: "MSNBC and Keith Olbermann have ended their contract. The last broadcast of 'Countdown With Keith Olbermann' will be this evening. MSNBC thanks Keith for his integral role in MSNBC's success and we wish him well in his future endeavors."
NBC executives said the move had nothing to do with the impending takeover of NBC Universal by Comcast.
MSNBC announced that "The Last Word" with Lawrence O'Donnell would replace "Countdown" at 8 p.m., with "The Ed Show" with Ed Schultz taking Mr. O'Donnell's slot at 10 p.m. Mr. Olbermann did not discuss any future plans, but NBC executives said one term of his settlement would keep him from moving to another network for an extended period of time.
Mr. Olbermann signed a four-year contract extension in 2008 for an estimated $30 million. He had hosted "Countdown" at 8 p.m. since 2003 and it became the foundation of the channel's surge to its status as the second-ranked news channel on cable television, after Fox News, surpassing the one-time leader CNN.
Mr. Olbermann's outspoken, and sometimes controversial, support of liberal positions and Democratic candidates redefined MSNBC from a neutral news channel to one that openly offered a voice to viewers on the left, much as Fox News has done for conservatives.
Mr. Olbermann challenged Fox News publicly on numerous occasions, especially the top-rated cable host Bill O'Reilly.
Ratings for Mr. Olbermann's show grew, though he never approached Mr. O'Reilly's level of popularity. But he helped expand the MSNBC brand by his frequent invitations to Rachel Maddow, who was eventually offered her own show on MSNBC.
Ms. Maddow became the 9 p.m. host following Mr. Olbermann and has built such a successful show that some NBC executives felt less concerned about losing Mr. Olbermann as the signature star of the network.
According to several senior network executives, NBC's management had been close to firing Mr. Olbermann on previous occasions, most recently in November after he revealed that he had made donations to several Democratic candidates in 2010 - one of them, coincidentally, was Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who has been the subject of many of his recent shows after being shot in an assassination attempt.
The top MSNBC executive, Phil Griffin, said the donations had violated NBC News standards and ordered Mr. Olbermann suspended. His fans responded with a petition to reinstate him that attracted over 250,000 signatures. Mr. Olbermann returned two days later. In his response he said the rules on donations had been "inconsistently applied."
Click here to watch Keith Olbermann's farewell remarks.
Keith Olbermann, MSNBC : 21 January 11
I think the same fantasy has popped into the head of everybody in my business who has ever been told what I have been told: This will be the last edition of your show.
You go directly to the scene from the movie 'Network,' complete with the pajamas and the rain coat and you go off on an existential, otherworldly, verbal journey of unutterable profundity and vision and you damn the impediments and you insist upon the insurrections and then you emit Peter Finch's guttural, resonant "So," and you will the viewer to go to the window, open it, stick out his head and yell. You know the rest.
In the mundane world of television goodbyes, reality is laughably uncooperative. When I resigned from ESPN 13 1/2 years ago, I was literally given 30 seconds to say goodbye at the end of my last edition of 'Sports Center.'
As God as my witness, in the commercial break before the emotional moment, the producer got into my earpiece and he said, "Can you cut it down to 15 seconds so we can get in this tennis result from Stuttgart?" I'm grateful that I have more time to sign off here.
Regardless, this is the last edition of 'Countdown.'
It is just under 8 years since I returned to MSNBC. I was supposed to fill in for the late Jerry Nachman for exactly three days. Forty-nine days later, there was a four-year contract for me to return to this nightly 8 p.m. time slot which I had fled four years earlier.
The show gradually established its position as anti-establishment with the stage craft of 'Mission Accomplished' to the exaggerated rescue of Jessica Lynch in Iraq to the death of Pat Tillman to Hurricane Katrina to the 'Nexus of Politics and Terror' to the first Special Comment.
The program grew and grew thanks entirely to your support and with great rewards for me and I hope for you too.
There were many occasions, particularly in the last two-and-a-half years, where all that surrounded the show - but never the show itself - was just too much for me. But your support and loyalty - if I may use the word insistence - ultimately required that I keep going.
My gratitude to you is boundless and if you think I have done any good here, imagine how it looked from this end as you donated $2 million to the National Association of Free Clinics and my dying father watched from his hospital bed, transcendentally comforted that his struggles were inspiring such overwhelming good for people he and I and you would never meet, but would always know.
This may be the only television program wherein the host was much more in awe of the audience than vice-versa.
You will always be in my heart for that and for donations to the Cranick family in Tennessee and these victims of governmental heartlessness in Arizona to say nothing of every letter and email and tweet and wave and handshake and online petition.
Time ebbs here and I want to close with one more Thurber story. It is still Friday.
So let me thank my gifted staff here and just a few of the many people who fought with me and for me: Eric Sorenson, Phil Alongi, Neal Shapiro, Michael Weisman, the late David Bloom, John Palmer, Alana Russo, Monica Novotny, my dear friends Rachel Maddow and Bob Costas and my greatest protector and most indefatigable cheerleader, the late Tim Russert.
Olbermann then read a story by James Thurber, "The Scotty Who Knew Too Much," tossed his script at the camera, and concluded "Good night, and good luck."
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Sources said network brass basically paid the pundit to scram by working out an agreement in which he would get lost and continue to be paid.
He will have to stay off the air at least until fall as a result.
MSNBC issued a vague, unemotional statement saying it ended its contract with Olbermann, who hosted the top rated show on the network.