Is Keith Olbermann's MSNBC departure evidence of the danger in some stars' success?
Keith Olbermann's surprise departure from MSNBC tonight brought an immediate shuffling in prime time, as the cable channel announced host Lawrence O'Donnell would move to 8 p.m. and Ed Schultz would cover the 10 p.m. hour.
The move was a unsurprising surprise -- tension between Olbermann and his employers have been evident for a while; still, few expected MSNBC's biggest star to leave just as the cable channel was gaining momentum as a liberal alternative to right-wing stalwarts Fox News.
It also reminded me of something a top media executive said when talking off the record about a troublesome star: Some people are at their worst when they are doing their best.
Olbermann, whose success at 8 p.m. formed the cornerstone of MSNBC's growing stable of progressive anchors, fit that notion closely. Humble and self-deprecating when he started Countdown, fresh off a bruising stint at Fox Sports Net, Olbermann seemed to grow more like the hypocrites and blowhard he lampooned nightly with every passing year, clashing with NBC News management over unauthorized donations to Democratic candidates.
Olbermann himself told me as much back in a 2003 interview, admitting his worst excesses as an employee came when he seemed to be doing well -- and vowing to curb his habits in his new platform.
All that ended today, in a flurry of on air announcements and press releases. At least, this is one unemployed cable news star who isn't likely to land at Fox News.
MSNBC's STATEMENT REGARDING KEITH OLBERMANN: 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.
MSNBC PRIMETIME PROGRAM CHANGES “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O’DONNELL” MOVES TO 8 PM ET ‘THE ED SHOW’ MOVES TO 10 PM
NEW YORK – January 21, 2011 – Starting Monday, January 24, “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” will move to 8 p.m. ET/PT and “The Ed Show,” hosted by Ed Schultz, will move to 10 p.m. ET/PT on MSNBC. The announcement was made today by Phil Griffin, President of MSNBC. “The Rachel Maddow Show” will continue to air live at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
Since its debut in October 2010 at 10 p.m.ET, “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” has been a strong addition to the MSNBC primetime line-up. In the forth quarter of 2010, the show’s first full quarter on the air, “The Last Word” ranked #2 among A25-54 and total viewers beating CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” in all key demos and had MSNBC’s strongest A25-54 performance in the 10 p.m. time period since the first quarter of 2009.
“The Ed Show” launched in April 2009 at 6 p.m. ET on MSNBC. 2010 marked the best total viewer performance in the 6 p.m. ET hour ever for MSNBC, with “The Ed Show” ranked #2 in both A25-54 and total viewers for the full year. “The Ed Show” averaged 643,000 viewers in 2010 and 158,000 among viewers 25-54, while CNN’s “Situation Room” averaged 542,000 total viewers and 149,000 in the 25-54 demographic. Ed was up 8% in A25-54 and up 20% in total viewers, while CNN has dropped –28% in A25-54 and –29% in total viewers. Also starting Monday, Cenk Uygur, MSNBC contributor and host of the popular web show “The Young Turks,” will be filling in as host of the 6 p.m ET hour.