Opening with "As I was saying ..." and ending with Markos Moulitsas gleefully tearing into the alleged tears of Keith Olbermann's former MSNBC cohort, Joe Scarborough, the "new" Countdown on Current TV was almost exactly like the old Countdown Olbermann originated on MSNBC. Only with a dash chintzier graphics and a pound more "cat fight."
This time, it was personal.
Not that it wasn't personal the last time for the always emotional and grandeur-reaching Olbermann, who fifteen minutes into the thing was on his first "Special Comment" and quoting women's rights icon Harriet Beecher Stowe. But with sympathetic guests, like new Countdown contributor and chubby polemic, filmmaker Michael Moore, reformed Nixon White House legal counsel and show regular John Dean and Markos Moulitsas of online liberal bastion DailyKos, the show had a feeling of part-revenge fantasy, part-victory lap. After all, the proverbial "they" couldn't keep Olbermann shut up for long. During his five months away from cable news, he was still eminently quoted, anticipated and reported on. His move to the fledgling, Al Gore-founded Current allegedly fetched him $10 million.
And now, with something to prove as the "500 pound tuna" in Current TV's 60 million household "koi pond," Olbermann came out at his most blowhardiest, as if the time away only caused his worldview to harden and his grinding axe to sharpen. But I can't say that I didn't miss some aspects of this, as Olbermann self-righteously took on what has been mostly radio-silence surrounding Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' love of free swag from professionally compromising individuals. (Something I will write about either today or later this week.)
Olbermann called Countdown and its audience the nation's "last line of defense." And this kind of heft (which often felt like hubris) was a pall on the entire show, making the more petty parts with Markos Moulitsas seem crass and pointless. Moulitsas, towards the end of the show after a segment about Republican goofs, went on a tear about Kos being "banned" from MSNBC by head honcho Phil Griffin after getting into a Twitter spat with Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough. While I'm hardly a fan of ol' Starbucks Joe, the Twitter fight he had with Kos had devolved into accusations about Scarborough's role in the death of a staffer.
From Lloyd Grove at The Daily Beast:
Moulitsas was banned from MSNBC programming in May 2010 after he insinuated, during a Twitter fight with Scarborough, that the former Republican congressman was somehow responsible for the death of his congressional staffer Lori Klausutis in 2001—a fact not mentioned on Countdown—and then refused to apologize for the slander.
“Apparently I made him cry, and he went crying to Phil Griffin, your old boss, and he decided I would not be allowed on MSNBC until I apologized to Joe Scarborough,” Moulitsas told the slyly grinning Olbermann, who was fairly vibrating with pleasure. “I offered to buy him a fainting couch for Christmas, some hankies to wipe away the tears…”
Stay classy, San Diego.
That kind of petty cattery quickly turned Olbermann into a liberal mirror image of the usual target of his most potent jabs, the almost-always patronizing and smug, FOX News titan Bill O'Reilly. The argument could easily be made that O'Reilly is as equally grandeur-reaching as Olbermann (both fancy themselves the heir-apparents of news men of yore), yet he's thin-skinned and chippy. O'Reilly's smug-o-meter was also cranked up to 11 last night in the tut-tuting talking to he gave hip hop artist Lupe Fiasco for his "Obama is a terrorist" comments. (More on that later today.)
The new show ran several minutes past the 9 o'clock hour, potentially eating "ratings-wise" into former MSNBC co-worker, friend and now competitor Rachel Maddow's show. But with Current TV only being available, mostly as part of a digital TV package, in those aforementioned 60 million households. MSNBC has a reach of 95 million homes and is a part of most basic cable packages. Also, there's still the matter of awareness. Most of the people I spoke to yesterday, whether friends or strangers, had no clue Olbermann was back, let alone on Current TV. My mother, a big fan of Keith's, was shocked when I told her Countdown had returned on a new network.
"There wasn't anything in the newspaper!" she shrieked. My mother and father, religiously, get the incredibly shrinking St. Louis Post-Dispatch and are life-long subscribers. They read the thing practically from cover to cover. I told her there was a good chance Current TV doesn't air in Florissant, Mo. on their cable package, but they have a billion channels, so she should probably ask Daddy to double-check if they get it. Although, with my father's pure dislike of Olbermann, I wouldn't put it past him to just "pretend" like Current TV isn't there at all.*
Countdown was MSNBC's no. 1 show when Olbermann was with the network, but even high ratings couldn't keep the band together. Now on a new network, seemingly unmoored, unbought and uncensored, Olbermann is taking his role as the political agitator exiled to the nether regions of digital television very seriously. He'll be off, with Current, raising his army and planning his attack. He wants his old numbers again. He wants to turn Current into a contender. After all, what good is a TV revolution if no one's there to watch?
* -- Nothing has ever better explained my parents' personalities than their "favorite" hosts on MSNBC. My father prefers Maddow and Lawrence O'Donnell, while my mother is all about Olbermann and Chris Matthews. Guess which one of my parents is the logical, over-thinking, pragmatic one, and which one is all passion, fire and snappy, sometimes reactionary emotion? I, personally, can see the good and bad in all four hosts, hence proving, once again, that my parents will never be able to say I'm not their kid.