Keith Olbermann's team has wasted no time getting their version of his latest network departure into the public realm.
First, Olbermann himself exploded on Twitter less than an hour after getting fired, accusing Current TV bosses Al Gore and Joel Hyatt of being incompetent and dishonest and vowing to sue them.
And now, Olbermann's team have apparently spent considerable time with Howard Kurtz of the Daily Beast, showing Kurtz a trail of emails designed to prove their case.
This aggressive promotion effort has, thus far, been effective: Two days after the show host was canned, it's Al Gore's TV network, Current TV, that is on the defensive.
Olbermann's aggressive outreach has also obscured a key point:
Olbermann's ratings on Current TV were horrible.
And it's hard to see how Olbermann doesn't bear a big portion of the blame for that.
Based on Howard Kurtz's latest report, Olbermann's beef with Current TV started immediately after he was hired:
- He was unhappy with the show's technical production--for example, the lights once cut out during one show
- He was annoyed that he had to promote other Current TV shows during his show
- He was angry that he was occasionally given incorrect information about other Current TV shows to promote during his show
- He was annoyed that he had to participate in Current TV marketing events, even though he was contractually obligated to do so
- He viewed Current TV's production capabilities as those of a "cable access" show rather than a cable news network--and blamed his crappy ratings on that.
- He was annoyed that the network once cut away from him in mid-sentence to promote another show.
- He was annoyed that the drivers for the car companies Current TV hired tried to talk to him. He fired 8 car companies during his short tenure at the network.
Basically, Olbermann accuses Current TV of being cheap and incompetent.
To be fair to Current TV, these sound like quibbles and glitches, not intractable problems.
The bosses at Current TV were shocked at what a prima-donna Olbermann was and what a pain in the ass he was to deal with. He also appeared to be the farthest thing from a team player.
Olbermann refused to work on some nights that the network considered critical to its effort to become known for its politics coverage--such as the night before a key Republican primary.
Olbermann also took tons of vacation. He was contractually entitled to do this, but if Olbermann cared about anything at Current TV other than himself and his show, he certainly didn't give any sign of it.
And the bottom line for both sides, of course, was the horrible ratings.
Olbermann's Countdown averaged 1 million viewers a night at MSNBC.
On Current TV, this dropped to below 200,000.
In the key young male demographic, meanwhile, Olbermann's ratings sagged from 100,000 at launch to about 30,000 per night.
So the show, in other words, was a disaster. And Olbermann was being paid $10 million a year.
Were the crappy ratings Olbermann's fault... or the network's?
The answer to that will likely be fought out in the press over the next several weeks.
But one thing seems clear:
Contrary to the respective beliefs of "talent" like Olbermann and network bosses like Al Gore, networks and shows need each other.
And a network's lineup and prominence and brand and channel-positioning appears to have a significant impact on viewership.
Lots of people have heard of "Current TV," but it's hard to find anyone who knows what channel it's on. And it's harder to find anyone who knows what other shows are on it besides Olbermann's. And even Olbermann's show apparently wasn't enough to prod people into figuring out what channel it was on.
So the network is probably responsible for a big part of the crappy ratings.
(As another example of this, Oprah Winfrey's network has also been a flop.)
But given that Olbermann's key viewership has dropped by 2/3rds since the show started, it would be hard not to assign him a big portion of the blame. Those viewers knew exactly where the show was and when it was on--and they still chose not to watch it.
Either way, Current TV was paying Olbermann far more than he was worth to the network.
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