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Why Keith Olbermann may still hold a stake in the future of Current TV
After Keith Olbermann's messy divorce with Current TV began on Thursday, both sides started to arm themselves with strong rhetoric and high powered attorneys.
Conflicting reports and rumors detailing the split have begun to flood the mainstream media. The Daily Beast has already released angry email chains that span months, and The New York Post reported that Olbermann had begun to give his superiors the 'Silent Treatment' within the last month
Observers are not just debating what factors led to the split, but many are also beginning to speculate as to what Olbermann's next move will be. In a statement released Friday, Olbermann said he will pursue legal action against his former employers — making sure to take a few jabs at their expense.
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While some reports depict Current as a disorganized network, both managerially and technically flawed — and the party responsible for the split — others have highlighted Olbermann's prima donna-like tendencies as the key element that led to the relationship's demise.
But Olbermann faces more disputes than those in court — he faces a nightmarish public relations battle, as his breakup with Current is the second acrimonious split the polarizing news anchor has had in less than two years.
While at MSNBC, Olbermann paved the way for many liberal and progressive journalists and pundits; those inspired by his "invectives against the Iraq war and the Bush administration five years ago have multiple channels to appear on and potentially be paid by — a marketplace, in effect, for liberal talent on television," writes Brian Stelter of The New York Times. Since his departure, MSNBC's ratings have stayed fairly constant. The network is known for its liberal personalities, some of which got their break subbing for Olbermann — including Rachel Maddow.
His legacy may not be the same at Current. Although some hold the anchor responsible for more than quadrupling the channel’s prime-time average ratings, Olbermann's overall ratings stood an average of 177,000 viewers at 8 p.m. — "a shadow of his former incarnation at MSNBC where he drew a million-plus people a night," according to David Carr.
His departure was felt almost immediately. "Viewpoint," hosted by former Governor Eliot Spitzer, filled the time slot previously occupied by Olbermann's countdown, and bombed — viewership was down 74% compared to Olbermann's average.
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Olbermann is scheduled to appear on The Late Show with David Letterman tonight, but whether that will be enough to help repair his public image remains to be seen.
Despite the end in their professional relationship, Olbermann's fate may rest with that of Current. Carr seems adamant that Olbermann will eventually get another chance, but history may not be so kind. Current was willing to take a chance on Olbermann after a messy split perhaps because MSNBC's numbers seemed to be positively affected in the long run, despite his well-chronicled run-ins with his employers.
Current does not appear to be enjoying the same success that MSNBC did prior to its divorce with Olbermann. If Current's ratings do not recover, other networks may not be as willing to roll the dice on Olbermann as Current was.
But then again, five days isn't much time to put anything into historical perspective.
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