On with the 'Countdown': Olbermann, MSNBC re-up

4-year deal includes specials, essays

Keith Olbermann will continue to count down the day's top stories on MSNBC for another four years and will add two primetime specials a year and occasional essays to "NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams."

Financial terms of the deal for the "Countdown" host weren't announced.

Locking up Olbermann gives MSNBC added security and firepower at a time when it has never been in a better position against second-place CNN in the cable news race. "Countdown," which Olbermann hosts weekdays at 8 p.m. against Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor" and CNN's "Paula Zahn Now," is been a major growth agent in MSNBC's rise.

Olbermann's ratings have jumped 89% year-over-year, in part because of his commentaries against the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina and against the war in Iraq. And a on-again, off-again feud with O'Reilly as well as the show's quirky, informative and fast-paced tone haven't hurt ratings either.

"It's an incredibly important franchise for us," said NBC News president Steve Capus, adding that "Countdown" has been the centerpiece for the resurgence and growth at MSNBC.

For his part, Olbermann noted that four years ago last week he returned for a second stint at the Secaucus, N.J.-based news channel for three fill-in shows without realizing it would become a much more permanent arrangement.

Capus said that his work for "NBC Nightly News" wouldn't be like the special "Countdown" commentaries Olbermann he does from time to time.

"We're not looking to do, if you will, John Chancellor-type pieces with Keith on the set smoking a pipe," Capus said, referring to the late "Nightly News" anchor-commentator.

Olbermann said in an interview Thursday that the goal is to air the essays once a month, though it would be news driven and could be more frequent or less.

He said he had thought about other offers but believed that MSNBC and NBC Universal was the place to be, particularly given the level of support that Olbermann said he receives from NBC Uni president and CEO Jeff Zucker, Capus and senior vp Phil Griffin.