NEW YORK — Keith Olbermann was gone, a new host had replaced him, and history seemed to have repeated itself with his dismissal from Current TV after less than a year.
The left-leaning cable network announced just hours before airtime on Friday that “Countdown,” the show Olbermann had anchored on Current since June, would be replaced with a new program hosted by former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, beginning that night.
“Welcome to Current’s new 8 p.m. (Eastern time) show, ‘Viewpoint,’” said Spitzer, who had a short-lived talk show on CNN in that same time slot, where he briefly went up against Olbermann. He did not mention Olbermann on Friday’s premiere of “Viewpoint.”
The sometimes volatile Olbermann came to Current last year as the centerpiece of its new prime-time initiative after a stormy eight-year stint at MSNBC — his second at that network— followed by his abrupt departure in January 2011.
Shortly after, Current announced his hiring — reportedly with a five-year, $50-million contract — as the start of an effort to transform the network’s prime-time slate into progressive talk. His official title was chief news officer, charged with providing editorial guidance for all of the network’s political news, commentary and current events programming.
In a statement, Current TV founders Al Gore and Joel Hyatt said the network was “founded on the values of respect, openness, collegiality, and loyalty to our viewers. Unfortunately these values are no longer reflected in our relationship with Keith Olbermann and we have ended it.”
They offered no details, but it is known that the temperamental Olbermann repeatedly clashed with his employers. During the primary season he declined to host certain hours of election coverage and has missed a number of regular broadcasts, as well as complaining about technical problems he said undermined his show.
Current considered some of those missed shows to be in “serial, material breach of his contract,” terming them “unauthorized absences,” according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because that person wasn’t authorized to discuss details of Olbermann’s dismissal.
“We are confident that our viewers will be able to count on Gov. Spitzer to deliver critical information on a daily basis,” Gore and Hyatt said in their “open letter” to viewers.
In a statement posted online, Olbermann countered that “the claims against me implied in Current’s statement are untrue and will be proved so in the legal actions I will be filing against them presently.”
He said he had been attempting “for more than a year” to resolve his differences with Gore and Hyatt internally, “while I’ve not been publicizing my complaints.” Instead of “investing in a quality news program,” he said, his bosses “thought it was more economical to try to get out of my contract.”
He called his decision to join Current “a sincere and well-intentioned gesture on my part, but in retrospect a foolish one.”
The rupture between Olbermann and his bosses echoed Olbermann’s past employment history. At NBC there was ongoing friction between the brash host and his bosses, just as there had been at earlier jobs as far back as Olbermann’s star-making, often tumultuous turn as a “SportsCenter” anchor at ESPN in the 1990s.
Just weeks before his exit from MSNBC, Olbermann was nearly fired but instead was suspended for two days without pay for violating an NBC News policy by donating to three political campaigns.
At the heart of his grievance with MSNBC, as he later explained it, was the media consolidation that he felt threatened his independence on the air.
In January 2011, Comcast Corp., the giant cable operator, acquired a controlling stake in Olbermann’s already huge employer, NBCUniversal.
The night of Jan. 21, Olbermann told his viewers he was leaving. He said, a bit cryptically, that “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.”
After that, Current, the privately held network co-founded in 2005 by former Vice President Gore and Joel Hyatt, seemed the perfect fit: It is an independent media outlet.
“Nothing is more vital to my concept of a free media than news that is produced independent of corporate interference,” Olbermann said at the announcement of his coming to Current.
Current was then beginning its effort to redefine itself after ditching its original concept as the go-to site for viewer-generated short videos.
Since “Countdown” premiered, Current has fleshed out its prime-time lineup of liberals with “The Young Turks,” hosted by Cenk Uygur, and “The War Room” with former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
This week, it introduced a six-hour morning talk block, with live simulcasts of the radio programs “The Bill Press Show” and “The Stephanie Miller Show.”