U.S. News

Olbermann to Host Show, Have Exec Role at Current TV

Brian Stelter|The New York Times

Former MSNBC anchor and liberal firebrand Keith Olbermann will host a prime-time program for Current TV, the low-rated cable channel co-founded by Al Gore, starting in the spring.

Keith Olbermann
Donna Ward | Getty Images

The as-yet untitled hour of news and commentary will effectively mimic “Countdown,” the MSNBC program that Mr. Olbermann created eight years ago and quit hosting last month. Mr. Olbermann told reporters on a conference call Tuesday that the new program would be “an improved, and we hope amplified and stronger, version of the show that I just did."

Current is betting that Mr. Olbermann will put the channel on the cable map — and it needs the help. It averages just 23,000 viewers in prime time each night. Mr. Olbermann drew about 1 million viewers to his MSNBC program each night.

This is “the best investment that Current has ever made,” said Joel Hyatt, who founded the channel with Mr. Gore. Mr. Olbermann will have an equity stake in the company, and he will also have a management role. As the chief news officer, he will develop new programs and provide editorial guidance to the channel’s journalists.

“We are counting down the days to Keith Olbermann’s return to television,” Current’s chief executive, Mark Rosenthal, said on the conference call. But he did not announce a premiere date or a time slot for the program.

With Current TV, Mr. Olbermann gains a measure of independence. Unlike most cable channels, including MSNBC, which are owned by large media companies, Current is privately and independently owned by Mr. Gore, the former vice president, and other backers. Mr. Gore praised Mr. Olbermann in a statement. “We are delighted to provide Keith with the independent platform and freedom that Current can and does uniquely offer,” he said.

Mr. Olbermann also emphasized the point about independence. He kicked off Tuesday’s conference call by saying, “Nothing is more vital to a free America than a free media, and nothing is more vital to my concept of a free media than news that is produced independently of corporate interference."

Mr. Olbermann departed MSNBC, a unit of NBC Universal, after some stormy interactions with management, including a suspension last year for contributing money to Democratic politicians. He did not directly criticize his former employers on Tuesday, but said he would talk at length about MSNBC at a later date.

MSNBC declined to comment on Mr. Olbermann’s new job. Mr. Olbermann’s departure from MSNBC came just days before Comcast took control of NBC Universal, leading some to suspect that he was forced out by Comcast — an assertion that the companies vigorously denied. Comcast owns a 10 percent stake in Current TV. (CNBC is part of NBC Universal)

Current said that in his new role, he would be allowed to make donations. A move to Current TV will challenge fans of Mr. Olbermann to follow him to a channel that is considerably less accessible than MSNBC. Current TV is available in only about 60 million homes, and is usually provided only on the digital tier of cable systems, which requires a separate receiver. MSNBC is available in 95 million homes and is almost always available as a basic cable entry.