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NEW YORK — The tension between Keith Olbermann and Current management has boiled over as Olbermann sits out GOP primary coverage in the wake of technical difficulties on his New York-based Countdown, which bowed on the channel in June after Olbermann’s departure from MSNBC.
“I was not given a legitimate opportunity to host under acceptable conditions,” Olbermann said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter on Wednesday. “They know it and we know it. Telling half the story is wrong.”
But an internal memo from Current TV president David Bohrman obtained by THR contends that Olbermann was asked to lead primary coverage.
Cenk Uygur, Jennifer Granholm and network co-founder Al Gore have been helming the network’s election specials, called Politically Direct. And Tuesday, Olbermann’s Countdown was pre-empted for live coverage of the Iowa caucuses.
Olbermann said all along that he had planned to anchor his 8 p.m. program on Tuesday. And early in the evening he tweeted that he was “headed into the office now.”
Apparently, Bohrman, upon learning that Olbermann had assembled his staff for a show that would be pre-empted, sent a memo to Countdown staffers to clear up the “misunderstanding.”
“There will be NO stand-alone Countdown tonight. For those of you at work who might be preparing a program, I apologize your managers did not communicate this to you. See you back on the air tomorrow night,” wrote Bohrman. (Full memo is below.)
Representatives for Olbermann did not immediately elaborate on exactly what “acceptable conditions” would entail. But it’s no secret that Olbermann’s show has had its share of technical snafus. And this is a source of frustration, say sources.
In early December the studio lights went out while Olbermann was on the air, prompting him to return the following evening with a candle.
And there have been other signs of tension. Despite his chief news officer title, Olbermann has not been quoted in news releases announcing shows hosted by Uygur, the radio host who did a short stint at MSNBC, and former Michigan governor Granholm, whose 9 p.m. show bows late this month.
But last week, Olbermann disputed a New York Times article published Dec. 29 that described him as “disgruntled,” tweeting that the characterization is “either uninformed,” “wrong,” put forth by unnamed sources “working from a personal agenda” or “all of the above.”
And Monday, Olbermann sent THR an e-mail defending the editorial integrity of Countdown while sardonically referencing the technical glitches.
“The team I’m fortunate enough to be a part of has produced — in my opinion and that of the veterans of the old show — the best editions of Countdown we’ve ever had,” Olbermann wrote.“The studio lights might go off, but the editorial illumination is better than ever.”
Countdown is the highest-rated show on Current by far. On Dec. 15, the program averaged 52,000 viewers among news’ target demographic of viewers ages 25-54. The network’s two-hour post-Iowa GOP debate analysis on the same night had 4,000 viewers in the demo, while the 2 a.m. rebroadcast of Countdown pulled in 11,000.
Read the memo sent by Bohrman:
To the Countdown Staff….
I wanted to clarify tonight’s programming, as I gather there may be some misunderstanding about what is on when.
As we assumed Keith had communicated to you, Keith was asked to be the sole anchor and executive producer of our primary and caucus coverage. He declined.
We then made other plans to have our 4 hours of prime time election coverage tonight hosted by Al Gore, Jennifer Granholm, and The Young Turks. We tried several times to have Keith participate in our coverage, including being the lead anchor for the 8p hour tonight, incorporated with our election group in the Los Angeles studio and produced in the LA control room. We have a special election graphic package, live remotes, caucus feeds, etc.
There will be NO stand-alone Countdown tonight. For those of you at work who might be preparing a program, I apologize your managers did not communicate this to you. See you back on the air tomorrow night.
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