It’s hard to know whom to root for in the coming legal showdown between Keith Olbermann and Al Gore, the former a widely reviled liberal polemicist who cannot hold a job in cable TV and the latter a failed presidential candidate who launched a cable network in 2005 seemingly just for the fun of running it into the ground.
The ground got a lot closer on Thursday when Gore canned Olbermann, at once his worst nightmare and his foundering Current TV’s last real shot at success. The former vice president and his partner Joel Hyatt put out a statement “to viewers” in the pre-weekend news hole of Friday afternoon accusing Olbermann of breach of contract, meaning they have no plans to pay out the $50 million they reportedly owe him. A source suggests the figure is actually much lower, and in any event, it includes an equity stake in a television network no one watches.
Well, not no one: Around 177,000 viewers tuned in to watch Olbermann’s 8 p.m. “Countdown” broadcast at Current on the nights he turned up to work to host it. (Gore and Hyatt accuse him of breach for refusing to anchor many nights, including such important ones as the Iowa caucuses.) By contrast, Olbermann was pulling in around a million viewers from his old perch at MSNBC, from which he departed acrimoniously just 14 months ago. According to a statement from Current, Olbermann will be replaced by prostitute-aficionado Eliot Spitzer, who was fired in July from CNN.
The anchor, who divided his time at Current between feuding with his bosses and tweeting pictures of the sunset, responded to the network’s statement via Twitter, accusing Gore and Hyatt of not upholding their end of the bargain and vowing to sue. “In due course, the truth of the ethics of Mr. Gore and Mr. Hyatt will come out,” he wrote.
It is hardly a shocking denouement to a relationship that seemed doomed virtually from the start. After luring Olbermann with praise and the promise of riches and autonomy early last year, Gore and Hyatt quickly found out that the big star they thought they bought actually owned them. According to network sources, Olbermann bristled at the amount of money being invested in his show. He was frustrated not to have ultimate authority over other network hiring decisions. A committed nondriver, he complained about his car service.