Following a turbulent year, Al Gore’s Current TV finally parted ways Friday with fiery host Keith Olbermann.
“Countdown,” Olbermann’s show, was canceled Friday and was to be replaced by another featuring former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer. In a statement, Gore, the former vice president and Nobel laureate, and his business partner Joel Hyatt took an extraordinary swipe at their outspoken host, to whom they had reportedly given a $10-million paycheck as well as an ownership stake in hopes he would raise the tiny network’s profile.
Gore and Hyatt said Current 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.” A Current spokeswoman declined to elaborate.
Olbermann — who has endured rocky tenures with a series of previous employers including ESPN and MSNBC — quickly lashed back on Twitter, calling Current a “failure” and describing his decision to join it as “foolish.”
“Keith Olbermann’s termination is baseless,” said Patty Glaser, Olbermann’s lawyer. “We will sue them for their improper conduct. They made a bad decision; they can expect a bad result.”
“Countdown” did not deliver big ratings for Current, with viewership settling around 200,000 people per night, according to Nielsen. When the program was on MSNBC, it had drawn about five times that number.
The network informed Olbermann on Thursday morning that his services were no longer needed. A source familiar with the situation said bosses grew frustrated after the host took repeated unexcused absences from “Countdown,” including the night before the March 6 Super Tuesday primaries, when interest in his brand of political talk was at a premium.
But Olbermann and his bosses had been quarreling for months. He was so frustrated by technical glitches at the network last year that at one point he took to doing his show in a darkened studio, a stunt meant to mock the lighting problems that dogged “Countdown.” Earlier this year, he ended up boycotting Current’s coverage of the Iowa caucuses, in a spat that went public but was supposedly patched up later.
Just two months ago, Current bosses assured journalists that the previous conflicts with their star host had been settled.
“We’re fine,” Gore told The Times in January when asked about the Olbermann situation.
The two sides tried to hammer out an exit settlement Thursday and into Friday but remained far apart, according to two sources with knowledge of the matter. The rich terms of Olbermann’s deal may have made coming to terms difficult, with his handlers reportedly demanding $40 million to settle.
Olbermann accused Gore and Hyatt of a cynical money-saving move.
“For more than a year I have been imploring Al Gore and Joel Hyatt to resolve our issues internally, while I’ve been not publicizing my complaints, and keeping the show alive for the sake of its loyal viewers and even more loyal staff,” Olbermann tweeted. “Nevertheless, Mr. Gore and Mr. Hyatt, instead of abiding by their promises and obligations and investing in a quality news program, finally thought it was more economical to try to get out of my contract.”