Al Gore’s upstart progressive cable news network Current TV has fired marquee anchor Keith Olbermann, The New York Times reports. Starting Friday, his 8 p.m. Countdown slot will be filled by former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, with a new show called Viewpoint.
According to the Times, Current management “unanimously” agreed that Mr. Olbermann had failed to honor the terms of his five-year, $50 million contract, giving them the right to give him the boot. After declining to speak to the Times, Mr. Olbermann slammed network executives Mr. Gore and Joel Hyatt on Twitter, saying they had fired him unethically and he would seek legal recourse.
“Current was also founded on the values of respect, openness, collegiality, and loyalty to our viewers,” the network wrote in a letter to viewers. “Unfortunately these values are no longer reflected in our relationship with Keith Olbermann and we have ended it.”
“I’d like to apologize to my viewers and staff for the failure of Current TV,” Mr. Olbermann tweeted Friday afternoon. He went on, 140 characters at a time:
“But for more than a year I have been imploring @AlGore and @JoelHyatt to resolve our issues internally, while I’ve been not publicizing my complaints, and keeping the show alive for the sake of its loyal viewers and even more loyal staff. Nevertheless, Mr. Gore and Mr. Hyatt, instead of abiding by their promises and obligations and investing in a quality news program, finally thought it was more economical to try to get out of my contract. It goes almost without saying that the claims against me in Current’s statement are untrue and will be proved so in the legal actions I will be filing against them presently. To understand Mr. Hyatt’s “values of respect, openness, collegiality and loyalty,” I encourage you to read of a previous occasion Mr. Hyatt found himself in court for having unjustly fired an employee. That employee’s name was Clarence B. Cain: http://nyti.ms/HueZsa. In due course, the truth of the ethics of Mr. Gore and Mr. Hyatt will come out. For now, it is important only to again acknowledge that joining them was a sincere and well-intentioned gesture on my part, but in retrospect a foolish one. That lack of judgment is mine and mine alone, and I apologize again for it.”
Mr. Olbermann’s exit has been rumored since January, when, due to his dissatisfaction with Current’s technical capabilities, he “declined” to cover the Iowa caucuses. Mr. Olbermann left Countdown’s previous home, MSNBC, abruptly in January of 2011, after clashing with network executives. With any luck, this pattern of interpersonal problems will be further elucidated by The Newsroom, Aaron Sorkin’s new HBO project based on Mr. Olbermann.
Mr. Spitzer’s first foray into TV, CNN’s Parker Spitzer, was also plagued by infighting until the network dropped co-host Kathleen Parker. Parker Spitzer‘s one-man iteration, In the Arena, was canceled in a line-up shuffle last summer.
Update (6:44 pm): A source with knowledge of the situation told us Mr. Spitzer began talking with Current last November as tensions mounted between Mr. Olbermann and the channel’s owners. Mr. Olbermann was reportedly angry about the channel’s low production values compared to his former home, MSNBC. Despite these tensions, our source said no deal was made to bring Mr. Spitzer to the network because Mr. Gore, was desperate to keep him.
“Gore just tried to kiss Keith’s ass,” our source said. “It was like the geek trying to impress the cool kid in high school.”
Mr. Gore’s attempts to placate Mr. Olbermann were clearly unsuccessful.