OUT OF LEFT FIELD
... TV Natural
...his "Countdown" is over
His departure from MSNBC
will not mean he's done
By STAN ISAACS
I first became aware of Keith Olbermann on one of his various sports stints early in his broadcasting career. I was taken with his comical, novel attack on the rampant use of the crutch phrase, you know.
He would monitor use of the phrase on the airways and name the champion who used the phrase most often in the shortest amount of time. When somebody came along who outdid the reigning champion, he would gleefully trumpet the news that a new champion had arrived.
I kept up with this in my TV sports column in Newsday until he had made his point and dropped the feature. I think he became uncomfortable after awhile that it was one black athlete after another that was gaining the dubious title. Ever since, I have winced at the overuse of you know on--and off--the air. I wrote one column here that fingered none other than Vice President Joe Biden for rampant use of you know on a TV sports session chat.
In his travels around TV outlets, Olbermann has been smart, funny, innovative, a TV natural. Writing about him was like discovering a hotshot minor league baseball rookie who made it big in the major leagues. It pleased me, of course, when, after one of his controversial rants on his bombastic show, Countdown, he said, If you dont like what I said, blame Stan Isaacs.
His abrupt break with MSNBC and departure last week from Countdown dominated the TV dialogue. I thought an excellent piece in The New York Times captured quite well Olbermanns career--his brilliance, his prima donna mercurial nature and his impact on television. It was remiss only in not giving him enough credit for his significant role as a devastating critic of President Bush.
He became a counter-balance against the right-wing dominance of the airways. Liberals embraced him for providing some succor against the blowhards of Fox Network. He was important as well for emboldening other liberals to speak out against the Bush administration. MSNBC rode his coattails to offer a left-wing alternate to Fox.
It was Olbermann who finished his program by counting the days since May 1, 2003, the day that President Bush declared mission accomplished, the end of the Iraq War. He seized on the lies that made false heroes of Jessica Lynch and footballer Pat Tillman.
Vintage Olbermann was his apology for calling Massachusetts Republican candidate Scott Brown, an irresponsible, homophobic, racist, reactionary, ex-nude model
He was not always an easy listen. He spoke too rapidly, flaunted vocabulary, got too involved in petty taffy pulls and could be emotional at the expense of the rational. He was not fair in the traditional news commentator sense. So much so that NBC ace Tom Brokaw complained that Olbermann had gone too far in favor of the Democrats in his campaign coverage.
In retrospect Olbermann did not provide newscasts so much as the equivalent of newspaper editorials or op-ed pieces. Lawrence ODonnell, a liberal who has taken over Olbermanns MSNBC time spot, marveled at Olbermanns ability to turn out these pieces. ODonnell said, No one in television history has ever done anything like it .In doing it, he took MSNBC to new heights.
Olbermanns fans were outraged by the development. They would have been ready to wage a sustained campaign to bring Olbermann back. But it became evident that Olbermann wanted to leave MSNBC. It is his history to have falling outs with his employers, and they both had had enough of each other by the end.
His friends acknowledge this. One of them told me, Hes 52, not married, hes always at the computer. His whole life is his work. Hes brilliant and insane.
He told one friend, Be of good cheer. This will have a good outcome in the end.
By agreement he is not allowed to take a job challenging MSNBC. There are other avenues for him. There is radio and the internet. And consider that he is a baseball fanatic, exceptionally knowledgeable. When Ken Burns did his much-acclaimed public television multi-episode documentary on baseball, Olbermann typed several single-spaced pages pointing out errors in the program. He is a natural for a spot on the Baseball Network.
Whatever he does he will be brilliant, controversial, insane.
©2011 by Stan Isaacs. The Stan Isaacs caricature is ©2001 by Jim Hummel. This column first posted Jan. 31, 2011.
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