Keith Olbermann Shocks ‘Countdown’ Audience With A Goodbye

NEW YORK (AP) — Keith Olbermann, MSNBC’s most successful and controversial personality for his outspoken liberal prime-time program, gave an abrupt goodbye to viewers and said Friday was his last show.

It was not immediately known if he quit or was fired. Olbermann did not address the question, and MSNBC said only that they and Olbermann had ended their contract. He signed a four-year contract two years ago.

“MSNBC thanks Keith for his integral role in MSNBC’s success and we wish him well in his future endeavors,” the network said in a statement.

A spokesman said Phil Griffin, MSNBC’s president, would not comment on Olbermann’s exit. Spokesman Jeremy Gaines would say only that the acquisition of NBC Universal by Comcast, which received regulatory approval this week, had nothing to do with the decision.

Olbermann was suspended without pay from the network for two days in November for donating to three Democratic candidates, which violated NBC News’ policy on political donations. Olbermann complained that he was being punished for mistakenly violating an inconsistently applied rule that he had known nothing about.

The host apologized to fans — but not to the network.

MSNBC essentially molded the network in Olbermann’s image. His program is MSNBC’s top-rated, gaining in viewers after his evolution from a humorous look at the day’s headline into a combatively political show in the latter days of the Bush administration. MSNBC decided that point-of-view programming was the way to go, and hired Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell — both occasional subs for Olbermann — to fill out its prime-time lineup.

His exit was so sudden that MSNBC didn’t have time to change its ads; a “Lean Forward” promotion for the network featuring Olbermann aired within a half-hour of his final goodbye.

Olbermann, before leaving the show with a final signature toss of his script toward the camera, thanked his audience for sticking with him and read a James Thurber poem.

“This may be the only television program where the host was much more in awe of the audience than vice versa,” he said.

He thanked a series of people, including the late Tim Russert, but pointedly not Griffin or NBC News President Steve Capus.

“There were many occasions, particularly in the last 2 1/2 years, where all that surrounded the show — but never the show itself — was just too much for me,” said Olbermann, whose father died recently. “But your support and loyalty and, if I may use the word, insistence, ultimately require that I keep going. My gratitude to you is boundless.”

He said he was grateful to the network that he was given time to sign off, noting that when he left ESPN in the 1990s, he was given 30 seconds — cut in half at the last minute to get in tennis results.

But Olbermann was known for a mercurial personality behind the scenes and he was almost fired last year for the political donations. He quit a prime-time show on MSNBC in the late 1990s, complaining that management was making him report too much on President Bill Clinton’s impeachment scandal.

He was particularly critical of Fox News Channel and his direct competitor, Bill O’Reilly, frequently naming him his “Worst Person in the World” in a segment popular with his fans. Bosses at NBC had discussed trying to keep the tone of the vitriol down.

Olbermann came in to work after the shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, airing a special comment in which he promised to tone down inflammatory rhetoric and challenged others to do the same.

MSNBC announced that O’Donnell, who had frequently filled in for Olbermann before starting his own 10 p.m. show, will take over Olbermann’s time slot starting Monday. “The Ed Show,” with Ed Schultz, will move to 10 p.m. Cenk Uygur of the Web show “The Young Turks” will fill Schultz’s vacated 6 p.m. time slot.

It’s unclear what Olbermann’s plans are now.

He could give a boost to struggling CNN’s prime-time lineup, but Olbermann would mean CNN would make an abrupt shift in its nonpartisan policy. It was not immediately known how quickly Olbermann could switch to another job if he wanted to; such contract buyouts typically include noncompete clauses.

 (© Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

  • Ben Medina

    What am I going to do now KEITH? I always slept a bit better after you. Please come back somewhere. i would pay to see ypur show anytime, anywhere.

  • Jose Ramirez

    Always kept it real even when it hurt lol. Please come back soon I will keep watching wherever you go.

  • greg

    Thank God he’s gone, he sucked on MSNBC he sucked as a sportscaster in Los Angeles, and he sucked as a person, he was and is a moron who will only be missed by other morons who wanted an opinion and used his, they are too stupid to think for themselves.

  • Nate

    Keith, Thanks ever so much for bringing us “Count Down” . I t was a stimulating and fact based progrogrm which did a terrific job at calling out right lies, misinformation and bigotry spread on Fox Network by the likes of Bill O’Rilley, Shawn Hannity and the moron, Glen Beck.. I and millions of Americans will miss you. Hope you find another Network soon to help out sister Maddow, and bothers, Shultz,, Mathews, and O”Donnald. Nate

  • John from the Westside

    $7 million a year for two years — and has to do nothing? Where can I sign up for that? He deserves every penny. NBC execs are petty little tyrants and don’t deserve the likes of Olbermann and Letterman.

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