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.

Current TV cuts ‘Vanguard’ staff

The 2010 Vanguard team

I can only imagine how my old friends at Vanguard are feeling right now.

Vanguard is — er, was Current TV‘s critically acclaimed, yet underappreciated documentary series.

Vanguard stood out in a lot of ways.

It strived to tell stories that weren’t being reported and investigated issues in a captivating way that appealed to young people. In part, that’s because the personalities you see on the above poster are younger, hipper and more impassioned than your typical TV reporter.

A lot of people are probably familiar with something about Current.

First off, it was started by Al Gore in 2005. Then there’s the two Vanguard journalists who were detained in North Korea in 2009; Laura Ling and Euna Lee.

More recently, the network brought on progressive liberal talkshow host Keith Olbermann and gave him a major stake in the network to help transform and refine what has been a long, drawn-out experiment in really cool things that didn’t always work (pods, or short-form pieces and user-generated material have been two big ones that have been mostly phased out).

The interesting thing here is that Olbermann revered Vanguard and stated the show would be a focal part of the network’s future. To date, that has included the prime-time 9pm spot after Olbermann’s own show on certain nights.

The New York Times’ Media Decoder blog broke the news Dec. 4:

In what some called a cost-cutting move, the channel last week dismissed most of the roughly 10 “Vanguard” employees. Some were offered other jobs. The channel will continue to produce “Vanguard” documentaries, but with freelancers.

David Bohrman, the president of Current TV, said in a statement that production was not being canceled. “But given the network’s new focus on political news and analysis, we have chosen to change the present in house production model for ‘Vanguard.’

It is essential that Current keeps these talented reporters and producers on board in one form or another. Some of them have been around since the inception of this fledgling cable network and it would be insulting to eliminate the staple that has, although flimsily, kept just a hint of the old Current alive in the midst of the new, politically-charged agenda.

Check out my previous posts on Current and Vanguard. I interned with Vanguard in the Los Angeles offices during a tumultuous time that included Ling and Lee’s return from Korea and unannounced layoffs.

Read the full details on Media Decoder.

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?

Mirthless “Couples Retreat”, heartfelt “Wild Things”

Man I wish I had time to update more!

I’m lucky if I pull off once a week. Vanguard 3 days a week, Apple 4.

I did squeeze in some time with the girlfriend to catch a double feature (it’s where you pay for one movie, see two. only way to go when you’re chocking up 10+ bucks for a single admission!) last night.

Saw Where The Wild Things Are and Couples Retreat.

I thought Wild Things was beautifully done. Definitely not child’s play. The animatronic and CG wild things (monsters?) looked great and were very entertaining to watch. Max was great. Cute kid. Reminds me of myself when I was little…playing for hours upon hours with legos and action figures and making forts. Don’t think I had a animal suit that cool though.

Everyone has been saying the same things — it’s too dark for kids. I’ll agree on that one…if I had a child who wanted to see the film though, I wouldn’t hesitate to bring them along…with the warning that there’s some scary scenes where they should shut their eyes or hold daddy’s (eh, maybe mommy’s) hand.

But what a true adaptation. I grew up on that book, and remember the bitter feelings of loneliness Max carries. Can’t blame a little boy for wanting attention. And while he’s a little troubled, I’m on his side. He’s just acting out because no one cares about what he does. Which is, of course, why he goes and finds himself a mystery island full of scary-friendly creatures who want him to be their king.

The tormented themes within the culture of the wild things is also very mature and all too real for plenty of adults. But other than a shred of fantasy violence and some scary moments with Max in danger, it’s a PG movie with a PG-13 feel at times.

And now to the BAD stuff. The really, really bad stuff.

Couples Retreat.

We’ve got Kristin Davis, Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell on top. Jason Bateman, Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau, on top. Not to mention Faizon Love (the big black dude) and cameos by the funny gay guy and the hilarious little Asian man from Community, The Goods and The Hangover.

All in one movie! With a ripe premise, too. And they still couldn’t pull it of?!

I mean, I was disappointed by Extract too, Batemen (and Mike Judge). Batemen’s great, and I loved him in Arrested Development. But these projects need some better directors, writers, producers, something!

It’s almost comedic that Hollywood still makes shitty movies this bad. Couples Retreat could’ve been saved with better editing — it was 2 hours, a half hour too long. Plenty of unnecessary scenes like the gay sauna comments and Guitar Hero nonsense. And I could’ve gone with a little less of the sexy Fabio-like yoga instructor flaunting his bod…and his pod (package?).

It’s easy to see that a bunch of studio execs thought this would be a good idea:

Great star power (even though that matters less these days)

Funny concept

Bikini-clad island girls

Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau at the helm, writing and producing

…but what they didn’t tell us in the previews was how there was going to be a good 4-minute Guitar Hero advertisement right about two thirds into the movie. LITERALLY. A 30-second joke? I’ll get over it, full-well knowing it’s a paid joke, assuming the plot moves on.

Instead, it decides to dwell. For a really pointless, bland and unfunny scene where Vaughn has a Guitar Hero-off with the douchey resort dude. How original. Let South Park make fun of it, because they make it funny. You, Couples Retreat, despite the ridiculous nature of grown men using three-foot miniature, plastic guitars; utilize a cheesy, fluorescent split-screen, overlaid videogame graphics, and pointless, predictable banter.

Frankly I’m offended. I wish I could find out how many millions Activision spent for that blatant screen time.

Despite the usual abundance of product placement and script integration — we’ve got Applebee’s, Apple, Microsoft, GMC, Volkswagen, Starbucks and about 10-15 more I can’t remember (no joke, I nearly counted to 20). It’s a fun little game I play when I see movies: see how many times different products are shameless plugged. If you count up the amount of screen time and number of mentions you can easily tally up a good chunk of how that movie was probably paid for.

Now I’m just talking out of my mouth because I don’t feel like Googling a bunch of links right now, but this “subliminal” advertising has been growing and getting out of control. It’s been going on forever in Hollywood, and the secrets been out of the bag for a while — even Marty McFly in 1985’s “Back To The Future” (me, this Halloween) was sporting some classic Nikes as he filmed Doc send the dog back in time outside a JC Penny in Pomona, California.

[Yes, that’s right, Pomona. I bought the DVD and watched Michael J. Fox talk about filming in a mall parking lot in Pomona late at night. Also, Current TV’s Embedded featured some great shots of downtown Pomona and The Glasshouse in last week’s episode on the Silversun Pickups.]

Vanguarding

oxycontin express

oxycontin express

Current TV.

Founded in 2005 by Al Gore and businessman Joel Hyatt, the 24-hour TV network incorporates viewer-created content into much of its programming.

VANGUARD is Current’s investigate news outlet, featuring 30-minute (sometimes an hour) documentaries on stories that are not being reported by everyone else. You hear the same regurgitation of news through the excessive modern media outlets; online, in the newspaper, in your e-mail, on TV, and maybe even from your friends.

Vanguard takes the time to consider everything else that’s going on in the world that most of us Americans have no idea about. And they do in an invigorating way that is both informative and entertaining.

The new season debuts Oct. 14 on Current’s TV station, which you can find through your cable listings.

However, the season premiere, “OxyContin Express” is available for streaming on Hulu already. It’s the seventh one over if you scroll through the featured shows.

….and right now, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, the two captured journalists that made headlines upon their high-profile return a couple months ago, are in the Vanguard office doing a shoot for a Glamour magazine piece.

DirecTV Channel 358
Dish Network Channel 196
Sky Digital Channel 183
SKY Italia Channel 130
Cable
Comcast Channel 107
Virgin Media (UK) Channel 155
Bright House Networks (Tampa, FL) Channel 128

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.

    Keeping it Current

    one of current tv's hollywood buildings

    one of current tv's hollywood buildings

    Started my first week interning at Current TV, with the Vanguard journalism dept.

    A radical group of people for sure…I hope to get in the know.

    As expected, a laid-back, hip, young office vibe. But they’re true to their work and are on top of their game.

    And on day 2, I got to watch porn….while eating donuts! The thanks goes to Christof, the Current correspondent working on a documentary on the porn industry for the new season of Vanguard, starting Oct. 22.

    [Emmy-nominated investigative documentary series, it seems is what we call Vanguard]

    I watched — well, fast forwarded through the explicit scenes and slowed down for the dialogue — “Space Nuts” and “Curse Eternal,” two “big” budget pornographic flicks. I say “big” because I’m not sure the size of the budgets nor the comparison to Hollywood films….I didn’t realize there was really a story here until today. Makes sense though – the “real” acting and art that goes into porno DVDs is being undercut by Internet profiteers in the porn biz and gonzo porn stuff.

    Sex aside, being behind the scenes a very interesting company that puts out really excellent documentaries and media for the 18-34 demographic should prove quite awesome and hopefully fruitful.

    —–

    IN MUSIC THIS WEEK: Because I can’t blog enough about all the artists I want to, you need to check out the latest from Mute Math, Muse, Imogen Heap and Bat For Lashes.

    I heard “Backfire” from Mute Math @ The Press in Claremont tonight, which was surprising but awesome. Saw these guys open for Mae freshman year of college at The Glasshouse in Pomona. Only caught the end of their set, but I was immediately impressed: weird noises, a proggy Radiohead feel, melodic verses, fast-paced beats, catchy keyboard and guitar riffs, with a soothing Coldplay-esque voice that can lull you to sleep and get you dancing all at the same time.

    >>download the title track, “Armistice,” from the widget on the right! Listen more on LaLa or Myspace

    Imogen Heap and Bat For Lashes are my latest lady obsessions, both creating definitively unique sounds through synthesizer manipulation contrasting organic instrumentation like ethnic drums and chimes. I highly, highly recommend. Especially if you’re looking for something. They’re eye-openers. Also caught BfL @ Outside Lands San Francisco a few weeks ago. Couldn’t tell if the girl was hot or not! Girlfriend and I couldn’t quite figure her out. See for yourself below:

    batforlashes