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Keith Olbermann's return to TV seems like a rerun

If there was ever any expectation that his time away from television had softened his tongue, former MSNBC host Keith Olbermann blasted that notion to bits within seconds Monday, kicking off his new weeknight show for Current TV, also called Countdown, with carefully-aimed word grenades.

On the subject of what GOP icon Ronald Reagan might have thought of hostilities in Libya, Olbermann thundered, "He's dead. He was a lousy president and he helped keep (embattled dictator) Gadhafi in power."

And in previewing later discussion of a POLITICO story on conservative radio hosts selling their opinions, he cracked that viewers shouldn't be surprised these pundits were selling their souls, "but that they have them."

Indeed, the program Olbermann brought to Current on Monday night may have been more acerbically liberal than its MSNBC precursor, as the host took time during a quick — at least for the loquacious Olbermann — special comment that provided something of a mission statement.

"The weakest citizen of this country is more important than the strongest corporation," he said. "The nation is losing its independence from the malfeasance of one political party and the timidity of another."

Then, after quoting a profile of Abraham Lincoln that referenced a "war for the rights of the working class of mankind," he cut away for a commercial break sponsored by luxury car maker Lexus.

Which highlights one sliver of the odd contrasts Olbermann has continued and amplified in his new show, re-created in the shadow of a stormy divorce from MSNBC earlier this year, and airing on a cable channel co-owned by liberal lion ex-Vice President Al Gore.

Many things on Countdown are the same, right down to the percolating theme song and his Worst Persons in the World segment — a bit he has often agonized about enjoying so much, promising at various time to retitle or reimagine for the way it seems to echo hyperbolic partisanship.

Monday's show also welcomed a round robin of "contributors" who mostly served as Olbermann's agreeable Greek chorus, echoing and amplifying his opinions with little dissent. Filmmaker Michael Moore and former Nixon aide John Dean both filled those roles eagerly.

And Olbermann allowed Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas to criticize MSNBC and Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough for banning the pundit from the cable channel in 2010.

As Olbermann smiled, his guest launched insults and criticisms the host himself may still be contractually prohibited from publicizing, as Moulitsas called Scarborough a "loser host."

Revenge, it seems is a dish best served on camera.

Some questions remain: Can an anchor with a multimillion-dollar salary and blue chip sponsors consistently attack corporate power? Will enough fans of the old show migrate to a new channel, located on the digital cable tier for Bright House customers in the Tampa Bay area?

And can Olbermann overcome his worst instincts — his love for the sound of his own voice, fine appreciation for his own considerable wit and intolerance for dissenting opinions — to craft a more informative, wide-ranging and unpredictable showcase?

Perhaps not. But that, judging by Monday's show, is what Olbermann needs most to become more than the just liberal reflection of the O'Reillys, Beck and Limbaughs he so steadfastly opposes.

Keith Olbermann's return to TV seems like a rerun 06/21/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 21, 2011 12:35am]
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