Countdown with Keith Olbermann premiered on Al Gore's Current TV last night, five months after Countdown with Keith Olbermann ended its run on MSNBC. Some performers might have taken those five months to tinker with their format, rather than reappearing in the summer with the same show, in the same time slot, but on a network with a significantly smaller audience. Not Olbermann. Based on last night's show, Current's Countdown will about be the same as MSNBC's Countdown, only more so.
That's not necessarily a bad thing, writes The Hollywood Reporter's TV critic Tim Goodman. Goodman discloses up front that he and Olbermann are friends dating to back to their time in Jason Bateman's fantasy baseball league, but that he was dubious about Olbermann's move to Current. But after one night, Goodman admits finding the new network a nice change of pace. "Nothing seems to have changed much from his time at MSNBC," observed Goodman in his live blog, "except the people who surround him now are far less annoying." (He was concerned, however, by the high volume of medical commercials during programming breaks.)
In the New York Times, TV critic Alessandra Stanley argues that while the new show "looks the same as the old one, even down to the features, music and title...the pulpit is markedly different from his old perch at MSNBC." Case in point, she says: Olbermann's premiere was "wedged between two documentaries, 'The OxyContin Express' and 'Gateway to Heroin.'" As lead-ins go, Hardball was probably stronger.
As for the show itself, it was something of a mixed bag. The Washington Post's Hank Stuever thought "something seemed sleepy about the show; maybe part of that has to do with the fact that it’s not 2007 anymore." First guest Michael Moore was an afterthought. Moore could have been there to talk about anything," observes Stuever, "so long as it was underlined with a salute to Olbermann, Capt. Courageous, the beacon of truth and all that." Not that Olbermann wasn't trying to liven things up. Stuever notes that "In his 'special comment' (a Countdown trademark), Olbermann picked up the torch of freedom and justice and waved it around, quoting Harriet Beecher Stowe."
The Stowe quote--“It is the war for the rights of the working classes of mankind, as against the usurpation of privileged aristocracies."--also struck Stanley as an odd flourish. Olbermann may be "hoping that his new platform — politically progressive and free of corporate overlords, will attract left-of-liberal viewers seeking a more rabble-rousing champion," but he seemed rusty, or maybe just struggling to shake off the effects of the blistering summer heat, when he "noted, more bizarrely, that he is not the only person to start a new career on June 20 — Queen Victoria began her reign on the same day."