Is Olbermann’s departure the nail in the coffin for Current TV?

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With the news circling around fledgling cable network Current TV firing liberal talk show host Keith Olbermann, we’re left wondering what’s next for both parties.

While Current co-founders Al Gore and Joel Hyatt duke it out with Olbermann in court (and in public) over who “wronged” who first, let’s spell out the possibilities for both.

Current has already replaced Olbermann with former New York Governor Elliot Spitzer, so we know what’s next for the channel aggressively reinventing itself as a progressive news talk station.

But will Spitzer’s “Viewpoint” last any longer than his cancelled CNN show “In The Arena”? Olbermann was at the top of his game when he left MSNBC, gathering around 1 million views a night. Joining Current was a coup for the station and an opportunity for the ever-annoyed Olbermann to have things his way and build Current’s brand of progress news around his show. He was even given an equity stake and made the chief news officer. But even being one of his own bosses didn’t stop the inevitable breakup.

Olbermann’s calling Current a “penny-pinching, incompetent clown show” according to an article from Business Insider. Check out the “angry email trail” Olbermann’s team has put together and shared with The Daily Beast.

I was an intern for Current back in 2009, when the logo used to be a stylized pixel version of the word Current, which you can see above. I thought that was pretty cool, and still rock a track jacket zip-up with the 4 green dots.

In the last year, the station has turned into a whole different beast. Gone is the award-winning and boundary-breaking investigate documentary team Vanguard and long lost are the hilarious shows like infoMania and SuperNews!

Since the network brought on Olbermann, they built a lineup of liberal-leaning talk shows. Most of which I could care less about.

Since the station has been tumbling through startup-style experimentation since its inception in 2005, it’s time to grow up. That much I get.

But runner-up to MSNBC, whose slogan is “lean forward”, sounds like a pretty raw deal. And without a heavy hitter to improve ratings, it seems imminent that Current will lose its relevancy, especially with its target 18-35 demographic.

The biggest concern of all? The only news Current actually produces comes from its internal controversy. Do a quick search and the headlines rarely relate to programming or progression. Instead, it’s a handful of media flurries from the 2009 capture of two Vanguard reporters to its latest controversial breakup with its biggest star.

Closest competitor MSNBC has the Comcast-NBC parent company with genuine news reporting chops, while Current just fired the last of its journalists when it disbanded Vanguard.

What’s next for Olbermann is yet to be determined. But despite his prima donna ways, someone will scoop him up and pay him the big bucks. And it will work. Just like it works in the NFL and in Hollywood. The big stars still get big money and big turnout, whether they’ve still got “it or not. See this Forbes article for more on that.

… [update] …

In an interview with David Letterman on “The Late Show” April 4, Olbermann admits that the breakup is his fault. At the same time, he refers to himself as a $10,000 chandelier with no house, mansion, lot or building permit to live in. Ouch.

New ‘Countdown’ begins on Current TV

The liberal firebrand news host known as Keith Olbermann returns to television tonight after departing from MSNBC a little under six months ago.

As I reported HERE, Olbermann takes his “Countdown” show to the fledgling TV station and Web community known as Current TV and Current.com. (Current was founded in 2005 and pulls in under 60,000 viewers during peak hours according to the New York Times)

The real motivation for Olbermann here is a majority stake in the company. He joins former Vice President Al Gore and businessman Joel Hyatt as an executive of the company.

Full disclosure: I interned for Current’s Vanguard back in summer ’09. Blogged about my experience here and also contributed to Current’s news blog here and here.

Current is not exactly a house name just yet, but getting a heavy hitter such as Olbermann on board may start to change that — at lest that’s what the station is banking on.

Besides Vanguard and now Olbermann, the network received mass media spotlight for its two reporters, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, that were held captive in North Korea.

Keep an eye on this five-year-old channel, because despite setbacks and low ratings, (around 25,000 viewers during prime time) shows like Vanguard, infoMania and now Olbermann’s are worthy of your attention.

Current has always been forward-facing: it initially gathered much of it’s programming through incorporating submissions from online contributors and was the first station to incorporate tweets into it’s coverage of the 2008 presidential debate.

But with new efforts focused on getting the station into more homes and a recent redesign (or more like design overhaul), I have heard few outcries but my own over what I find to be one very big problem:

Current, which was known for bridging the online and televised worlds, stopped allowing full episodes online. So much for anywhere, any time. What year is it?

The channel says the only way to continue carriage on networks like Verizon, TimeWarner and Comcast was to offer exclusive deals and Olbermann tweeted that the TV companies have them “over a barrel.”

Instead, Current is pushing clips big time, all over Hulu, iTunes and YouTube.

But for those of us who already cancelled our exorbitant cable subscriptions, we’re shit out of luck.

I can’t even legally purchase the shows in their entirety…anywhere. Now that’s just not right.

That’s why I scheduled a viewing party of sorts at a friends house for tonight’s premieres of Countdown with Keith Olbermann and a new season of Vanguard.

WATCH TONIGHT: Countdown premieres at 8/9c and Vanguard’s new season follows at 9/8c.

Check out behind the scenes with “Countdown” HERE.

Current TV adds Olbermann to shake things up

The tectonic plates of the American media landscape are starting to shift once again.

Two major events have given me a new spirit of hope in news media, both occurring this week. And both by Tuesday!

First off, Keith Olbermann, the former liberal host of MSNBC‘s “Countdown” announced that he will be starting a new show on Current TV, the fledgling entertainment and world affairs network founded by former Vice President Al Gore and businessman Joel Hyatt in 2005.

Olbermann told reporters on a conference call Tuesday morning that it will be an “amplified and stronger version of the show that I just did.”

But the even bigger news here is that Olbermann will become Current Media’s Chief News Officer and take an equity stake in the company. Meaning he will be up there with Joel, Al and CEO Mark Rosenthal as one of the hotshots.

Current’s own employees didn’t know a thing until the New York Times announced it.

At least that’s what Mariana Van Zeller, one of the investigative reporters in Current’s investigative documentary series “Vanguard“, told me today in an e-mail.

Keep an eye on this five-year-old channel, because despite setbacks and low ratings, (around 25,000 viewers during prime time) shows like Vanguard, infoMania and now Olbermann’s are worthy of your attention.

Full disclosure of course: I interned for Vanguard in 2009. Blogged about my experience here and also contributed to Current’s news blog here and here.

Read more about Current’s reinvention here from MediaBistro.

….

NEXT UP: AOL + HuffPost = a reinvention of the news wheel?

Plug in to Vanguard

screenshot from iambrandx.com

screenshot from iambrandx.com

 

In two weeks and less than five hours from the time of this blog post, the fourth season of Current TV‘s “Vanguard” returns.

Interestingly enough, I have been interning with the team of about 14 for about two weeks as well. The duties have ranged from transcribing to researching and assisting the correspondents, and should hopefully flourish into something more participatory where I can really dig my nails in and get into these amazing international stories that the team covers.

Last season, they covered the recession in a three-part series, guns in America, robots in Japan, and war in Iran. This season, more breathtaking documentary episodes to come.

And in the next two weeks we will hopefully be amping up Vanguard’s online presence through social media. While plenty have written off Twitter and Facebook as wastes of time, they still prove their worth  interesting new ways — it’s all about connecting. And man that online world is crazy these days. I could spend a whole day on the Internet just exploring what’s out there, and I’d still be missing tons of awesome stuff. 

Gotta be careful not to become obsessed though. Too much digitalia can rot your brain! Or reduce your sperm count! Or was that Mountain Dew…

Either way, the first episode of the new season, premiering Oct. 14, is called OxyContin Express. It’s about prescription drug abuse and how Florida plays a vital role in supplying pills.

HERE’S THE LINEUP:

  • The Oxycontin Express : 10/14/09
  • Cuba: Waiting for a Revolution : 10/21/09
  • Forest of Ecstasy : 10/28/09
  • Sri Lanka: Notes from a War on Terror : 11/04/09
  • Porn 2.0 : 11/11/09
  • Prison Contraband : 11/16/09
  • Remote Control War : 12/02/09
  • Cocaine Mafia : 12/09/09
  • Current has also been picking up some steam and notoriety here and there, which is really cool to see. While the Gore/Clinton Korea rescue propelled Current into public eyes, others have been noticing too (see above from iambrandx) — Rolling Stone even made mention of a brand new [mini]series Current is launching called “Embedded.”

    Now that looks sweet: exclusive shows on Mos Def, Common, Ben Harper, Silversun Pickups, Thievery Corporation, and The Decemberists. Cannot wait for this. And it debuts right after Vanguard on the 14th.

    Rolling Stone says this about EMBEDDED in reason #47 to watch TV this season (more on that later! cable looks like its pulling up it’s pants)

    “If Animal Planet had a show that captured musicians in their natural habitats, it would look like this refreshingly raw documentary series. Ben harper gives a tour of his instrument shop in California; Mos Def roams the streets of Osaka, Japan. It’s artists in their everyday lives, free of the crowds.”

    Check out some cool videos from today in the Current SF office (Vanguard’s in LA). See Adam Yamaguchi, Mariana Van Zeller and Christof Putzel give a presentation on the new season.

    Oh yeah, and Vanguard’s blog tells us that Mariana made her way onto Dr. Phil for an episode about drug abuse airing, yep you guessed it, Oct. 14.

    That’s all for now. More to come from inside the Vanguard office, and reviews from a slew of shows I saw in the past week: Portugal. The Man @ The Glasshouse, !!! @ The Troubadour, and Wallpaper @ Cinespace. Phew.