Keith Olbermann returned to cable television on Monday mad as hell and pointedly madder than other self-described liberal anchors on his former channel, MSNBC.
Mr. Olbermann’s new show looks the same as the old one, even down to the features, music and title, “Countdown With Keith Olbermann” but the pulpit is markedly different from his old perch at MSNBC. Current TV, a small, earnest network co-founded by Al Gore in 2005, favors civic-minded programs and averages about 50,000 viewers during prime time. Mr. Olbermann was wedged between two documentaries, “The OxyContin Express” and “Gateway to Heroin.”
And his guests stoked his ego. Mr. Moore praised Mr. Olbermann for “keeping the good fight going.” Markos Moulitsas, founder and publisher of the liberal Web site Daily Kos, who is also a contributor to the show, called Mr. Olbermann a “national treasure.”
And it could well be that Current TV is better suited to Mr. Olbermann’s personality than even his politics. Rachel Maddow and Mr. O’Donnell, the liberal commentators he brought to MSNBC and helped showcase, have developed their own followings, and Mr. O’Donnell has done respectably in his stead. Both anchors share Mr. Olbermann’s righteous indignation, volubility and even his snarky sense of humor, but they come off as reasonable, respectable and even-keeled. ( Unlike Ed Schultz, the host of “The Ed Show,” who follows Ms. Maddow and seems like the cranky uncle who rants in post office lines — in May, Mr. Schultz was suspended from the network after calling the conservative firebrand Laura Ingraham a “right-wing slut” on his radio program.)
Mr. Olbermann, who has a colorful history of fighting with bosses and getting fired, is famously mercurial and thin-skinned. (Full disclosure: this critic was named “Worst Person in the World” at least once by Mr. Olbermann when he was on MSNBC.)
Oh. THAT's why. Well, that explains everything. And it goes on and on like this. Clearly Ms. Stanley is not find of Mr. Olbermann.
But how did he do?
Here at Casa la Brilliant, where depression has pretty much ruled the roost of late, it was one brief and shining hour where it seemed that the world had somehow been put back on its axis. We've been watching Lawrence O'Donnell up until now, who in recent weeks has been clearly trying to get his Olbermann on, as when he recently assured people that the world isn't going to end soon. But O'Donnell is at heart an even-tempered kind of guy; he even used to be part of the Morning Schmoe crew for a while. He's good, and his heart's in the right place, but when you're living in a house where one person is perpetually exhausted from working at least 10 hours a day, seven days a week; and the other one can't find a job, even-temperedness is sometimes the last thing you need after a difficult and exhausting, or futile and frustrating, day. It's kind of sad that we have to make a choice at 8 PM, especially if watching one and recording the other would result in unwatched old news stacking up on the DVR like planes at LaGuardia during a thunderstorm.
The new Countdown is very much like the old one. Yes, the graphics are different, and "Oddball" is now "Time Marches On", so as not to incorporate Chris Matthews' laugh. And it's clear that while Olbermann is ecstatic at being turned loose in a broadcast environment where no one is going to smack him around because Scarborough gets pissy, there's a certain aura of kid who just bought not just candy, but the entire candy store.
The correspondents for the new show are a mixed bag. I'm not sorry to see a lack of Richard Wolffe, but Michael Moore isn't the kind of correspondent who's going to give the show mainstream gravitas, and neither is Markos Moulitsas, though the Great Orange Satan has shown in the past that he can comment on a story in a professional manner. I'll cut him a little slack this first time out, because I do think it's important that the question of exactly why he was banned from MSNBC be brought out into the open (even if he didn't reveal that the tweet that got Joey the Scar's knickers in a twist was a reference to a certain dead intern in Scar's office during the Summer of Condit. But now that THAT's out of his system, I hope he gets down to being the solid commentator he's shown he can be.
Other unfortunate choices include for some strange reason actor Donald Sutherland, and "comedian" Richard Lewis doing the Neurotic Jew comic beat. I realize that Lewis and Olbermann are friends, but the propsect of the spectacularly UN-funny Lewis makes me weep at the lost potential of what a WTF moment on the show could mean for both Countdown and that OTHER neurotic Jewis comic we promote here all the time -- you know, the one who's actually FUNNY.
More promising are the people with gravitas that MSNBC hasn't already tied down with contracts -- Matt Taibbi, John Dean, Jonathan Turley, and Jeremy Scahill.
So how does it look out of the gate? Very much like the old show. If you've always needed to bring Olbermann into your house in the evening to feel sane, you'll feel relieved that he's back. If you think he's a lunatic blowhard, you'll still feel that way. And it remains to be seen how the Ego of Keith fares given complete license and the power to build a lineup around his brand. I do miss the end-of-show banter between Keith and Rachel Maddow,and it grieves me that there seems to be this gulf between them (at least for now), but it's good to have him back, and it's good to know that if the still-uncertain MSNBC (which has recently hired former Republican chair Michael Steele as a correspondent and is said to be working on a show for Chris Hayes) decides to tack right, Rachel will have a place to go.
Now how about bringing The Majority Report to, say, the 10 PM slot?