Five months after his messy departure from MSNBC, Keith Olbermann is preparing to launch another version of his show Countdown on Al Gore's cable network Current later this month. In this week's issue of The Hollywood Reporter, Olbermann returns from exile with a lot on his mind.
Tim Russert's death marked the beginning of the end for him at NBC
When Russert died of a heart attack in 2008, Olbermann says the culture at NBC News changed, especially for him. "Tim knew how to play them," he says. "He managed to do that with every faction, with every complaint from the Republican side, with every complaint from the Democratic side, with every complaint from a staffer. He knew how to turn it into a conversation that ended in laughter. Tim, for the noblest of causes, could bullshit very well. And I admired him for it. It seems to sap my creative voice."
He doesn't speak to Rachel Maddow
But not because of any lingering tension between the two. It's just business. And the fact Olbermann doesn't want to tease her now that he's the competition"There were lots of people who were forced to choose sides [when he left]," Olbermann explains. "And particularly in Rachel's case, I didn't want to add to the pressure on her already. The last thing I need to do is be calling her up and saying, 'How's that Michael Steele working out for you?' Which is exactly what I would do if I were in the office."
He was fired from NBC's Sunday Night Football pregame show in 2009 for bad-mouthing Jeff Zucker
Officially, the network thought the gig was distracting him from Countdown, though Guthrie says that internally, he was criticized for lacing his commentary with political references. Olbermann, for his part, says a joke about former NBC executive Jeff Zucker was what got him axed. "There was a lot of speculation about what would happen [after the Comcast merger]" he says. "One surprisingly accurate bit of speculation on every floor of the building was, 'I betcha they don't keep Jeff.' And apparently he heard that I had said this. I was there, and I was a convenient punching bag, and everybody would believe everything they said about me. And so off I went."
He thinks MSNBC is scared of him
The new Countdown will air in the old Countdown's 8 p.m. time slot. This, Olbermann believes, is a masterstroke. "I don't think my former employers thought this was going to turn out quite this way," he says. "I just don't think they thought they'd be in competition with me, so fast or at all, and my understanding is this has left a certain tension over there."
He's making $10 million a year--at least
Current "disputes" that number, but wouldn't comment further. Olbermann will also "continue to collect his [$7.5 million a year] MSNBC wage for another year and a half." At Current, he's "No. 4 on the corporate ladder" and has an equity stake in the network that has the potential to "inflate his payday exponentially over the life of his five-year deal."
His Countdown contributors will not be paid "in the traditional sense"
Current nabbed Rolling Stone journalist Matt Taibbi, Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas, comedian Richard Lewis and filmmakers Michael Moore and Ken Burns to serve as Countdown contributors. The signings seem like a coup when you hear that Current is "not paying many of them -- at least not in the traditional sense." Moore, for instance, "will be compensated via a donation to charity," Burns is doing it gratis, and Moulitsas is getting "a token amount."
He thinks he comes off pretty well in the new ESPN oral history
Olbermann is one of the major villains of James Miller and Tom Shales' new tell-all These Guys Have All The Fun (ESPN producer Bill Wolff sums up the general consensus when he says, "If you take everything Keith says at face value, you will find your reason for living diminished"), but he doesn't think he seems that bad. "I naturally read the parts about me first to see if there were any forest fires. There were no forest fires. There are some funny things in it," he says, adding, "Honestly, hearing which executive thinks he was most responsible for the success of the place is probably not going to interest people who are picking up the book to find out how big of a jackass I am. Was I not a big enough jackass? Do I need to go back and jackass some more?"