The TV Column: Keith Olbermann gets charged up for his new role on Current TV

MSNBC host Keith Olbermann said he has taped his last "Countdown" down.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 8, 2011; 6:58 PM

Keith Olbermann, the sparky former anchor of MSNBC's most popular program, announced Tuesday that he will host a one-hour prime-time weeknight show on Current TV, the public-affairs network co-founded by former vice president Al Gore and Joel Hyatt.

Additionally, Olbermann will serve as chief news officer of Current, which is privately owned by Gore, Hyatt and other investors.

"Nothing is more vital to a free America than a free media, and nothing is more vital to my concept of a free media than news produced independently of corporate interference," Olbermann said at the top of Tuesday's news-conference call with the press.

"We are delighted to offer Keith the independent platform and the freedom that Current will provide," weighed in Gore, the network's chairman.

Hyatt, meanwhile, hailed the hire as "the best investment that Current has ever made."

Olbermann had been averaging about 1 million viewers as the centerpiece of MSNBC's prime-time lineup; Current, meanwhile, averages about 23,000 viewers in prime time.

Olbermann abruptly exited MSNBC in January, about halfway through a contract reported to be four years in length and worth $30 million. Neither execs at the NBC Universal-owned cable news network nor Olbermann would discuss details of that exit, but it was presumed at the time that Olbermann would be barred from returning to TV for some period of time.

Olbermann, in fact, will be able to return to TV late this spring, in a prime-time one-hour show airing each weekday, Gore announced during the conference call. "We are counting down the days to Keith Olbermann's return to television," chimed in Current chief executive Mark Rosenthal. He would not say how many days that was.

The men hinted that the hiring of their new star would mark the start of an overhaul of Current's prime-time slate, but they declined to elaborate on that. If you were hungry for details when you went into the phone call, you hung up still hungry.

Olbermann surprised his fans when, on his Jan. 21 edition of "Countdown," he announced it would be his last and that MSNBC was ending his contract. To this day, neither side has publicly discussed the reason for Olbermann's abrupt exit. The departure came a couple of months after MSNBC suspended Olbermann for two days for making campaign contributions to three political candidates, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who is recovering from a gunshot wound to the head during a Jan. 8 assassination attempt in Tucson.

Olbermann smelled trouble Tuesday morning, when someone on the call asked about a report that he'd left MSNBC with the basics of this Current deal already in place. He jumped in and said, firmly, "Everything you see here is because of events that began Saturday, January 22, of this year."

Olbermann's as-yet-unnamed new show "will be, for all intents and purposes, an improved and amplified and stronger version of the show I just did at" MSNBC, he told reporters.

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