Monday, November 08, 2010


I certainly see politics as a reason MSNBC's bosses might want to go after Keith Olbermann -- politics or quite possibly Olbermann's (completely understandable) vendetta against Fox News (former Clinton technology adviser Susan Crawford has pointed out to The Hill that MSNBC's new corporate overlord, Comcast, runs cable systems and thus needs to stay in the good graces of Fox, which a major content provider).

But (even as MSNBC announces that Olbermann will return to the air tomorrow night) I'm struck by a Mike Allen post at Politico, and this Mediaite's gloss on that post. Allen:

Network sources tell Playbook that Keith Olbermann was suspended because he refused to deliver an on-camera mea culpa, which would have allowed him to continue anchoring "Countdown." ... Olbermann may not hold as many cards as he thinks. He makes $7 million a year and MSNBC's prime time is not as dependent on him as it was before the addition of Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O'Donnell, who make considerably less.


MSNBC's ratings certainly back up the last line about Olbermann not holding as many cards as he thinks, something Steve Krakauer pointed out on Friday: "Rachel Maddow is getting better ratings than Olbermann in the key A25-54 demographic, and Lawrence O'Donnell isn't far behind. Olbermann is no longer the center of the strategy either -- as the network has unveiled a vibrant, massive new campaign "Lean Forward" which focuses on half a dozen members of the MSNBC talent pool."

Maybe it's an absurd analogy at this economic level, but it seems to me that Olbermann is just another fiftysomething worker (he's my age) who's put in the years and gotten the raises and benefits, but whose bosses wouldn't mind replacing him with someone cheaper and preferably younger. (Olbermann is 14 years older than Maddow, and while O'Donnell is older than either of them, he has a lot of irons in the fire, including movies and fictional TV.) Olbermann is still doing quite well in his time slot, but now he knows he's expendable. He's not the only worker his age who's been made to feel esdpecially vulnerable these days.

Although perhaps Maddow is the real target here. She's being shown what might happen if she starts demanding Olbermann money -- she might persuade the company to give it to her, but she'll be in the crosshairs.

I think CNN ought to bail on this centrism nonsense and just poach Olbermann and Maddow. Put crazy Nancy Grace in Larry King's slot and turn Headline News into what MSNBC is now. You think that'll hurt CNN's brand? In America, CNN is practically at the level of public access, while, by the standards of most nations overseas, Maddow and Olbermann are centrists.

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