MSNBC and “Countdown” host Keith Olbermann ended their current relationship as the final show aired Friday. Viewers learned of the decision at the end of the hour, when Olbermann said this:
“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, otherwordly, 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 [unintelligible] 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 e-mail and tweet and wave and hand shake 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 poem by James Thurber, tossed his script at the camera, and concluded “Good night, and good luck.”
Just after the show ended, MSNBC released this statement:
“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.”
The timing was curious, and many speculated that the separation was related to the Comcast merger with NBC Universal made official earlier in the week. NBC executives said no. And Comcast released its own statement, quoted by The New York Times:
“Comcast has not closed the transaction for NBCU and has no operational control at any of its properties including MSNBC. We pledged from the day the deal was announced that we would not interfere with NBCU’s news operations. We have not & we will not.”
The Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz reported that while the departure was mutual, Comcast was told Olbermann would be leaving when the FCC approved the merger.
Olbermann was suspended for two broadcasts in November after acknowledging he made political donations to several candidates, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was recently shot.
Starting Monday, Lawrence O’Donnell’s show will move to Olbermann’s 8 p.m. time slot, Rachel Maddow will remain at 9 p.m., and “The Ed Show” will air at 10 p.m.
It’s unclear what Olbermann will do next, but Bill Carter reports that “he agreed to a deal that would keep him off television for six to nine months.”
He is able to work in radio or online, though, which could be natural homes for the outspoken provocateur.
And, Carter notes, he “would presumably be free to return to television in time for the 2012 election cycle.”