Current TV Dismisses Keith Olbermann
5:42 p.m. | Updated Current TV said Friday afternoon that it had terminated the contract of its lead anchor, Keith Olbermann, scarcely a year after he was hired to reboot the fledgling channel in his progressive political image.
Current indicated that he had failed to honor the terms of his five-year, $50 million contract, giving the channel the right to terminate it.
In a stream of Twitter messages, Mr. Olbermann responded to Current’s announcement by stating that “the claims against me in Current’s statement are untrue and will be proved so in the legal actions I will be filing against them presently.”
Starting Friday night, the former New York governor Eliot Spitzer will take over Mr. Olbermann’s 8 p.m. time slot, according to a letter to viewers. His program will be titled “Viewpoint With Eliot Spitzer.”
In the letter, the channel’s founders, Al Gore and Joel Hyatt, wrote: “We created Current to give voice to those Americans who refuse to rely on corporate-controlled media and are seeking an authentic progressive outlet. We are more committed to those goals today than ever before. Current was also 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.”
Mr. Olbermann will not be given an opportunity to sign off, since Mr. Spitzer will start his new show on Friday night. This will be Mr. Spitzer’s second shot at an 8 p.m. talk show; in 2010, two years after he resigned the governorship after admitting to his involvement in a prostitution ring, he led a short-lived show on CNN. It was cancelled in mid-2011.
“We are confident that our viewers will be able to count on Governor Spitzer to deliver critical information on a daily basis,” Mr. Gore and Mr. Hyatt wrote.
With those words — “on a daily basis” — the founders of Current hinted at one of the reasons for Mr. Olbermann’s termination. It was the culmination, at least in part, of months of infighting between the famously temperamental Mr. Olbermann and his bosses at Current, including Mr. Hyatt, and David Bohrman, the channel’s president.
The fighting spilled out into public view in January after Mr. Olbermann declined Current’s requests to host special hours of election coverage, apparently out of frustration about technical difficulties that had plagued his 8 p.m. program, “Countdown.”
In January and February, Mr. Olbermann continued to miss many days of work, as he himself acknowledged on his popular Twitter feed. He attributed some of his absences to throat problems.
But Current considered some of those absences to be breaches of his contract, labeling them “unauthorized absences,” according to a person familiar with the matter, who insisted on anonymity because the executives involved had agreed not to comment on the record.
For instance, he took a vacation day on March 5, on the eve of the Super Tuesday primaries, despite a warning from Current that it would constitute a breach of contract, according to the person.