Keith Olbermann’s ousting from Current TV on Friday has since deteriorated into a full-out shouting match, with barbs and accusations flying from both sides. But according to angry e-mails between Olbermann’s manager, Michael Price, and Current co-founder Joel Hyatt (and uncovered by the Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz), this back-and-forth had been going on internally since early August, when Price sent Hyatt a list of 40 “deficiencies.” A week later, with nothing resolved, Price sent another e-mail, prompting the hiring of CNN’s David Borhman to help turn things around at Countdown, Olbermann’s 8 p.m. show. As Hyatt wrote to Price, “we not only take the issues seriously, but we hired David to assure that any problems with Countdown are dealt with expeditiously and expertly.” But when Bohrman suggested the hiring of a full-time publicist, Price was having none of it, calling Bohrman “out of touch,” likening the work atmosphere to that of “cable access [rather] than that of a cable news show,” and adding that, in fact, “the show’s production values have actually gotten worse, not better.”
Price was likely referring to the multiple tapings during which the studio lights went out, or the March 7 incident when a War Room promo cut in while Olbermann was mid-sentence (and which Bohrman vowed “will not happen again”), or the time that none of the printers had toner (TMZ has e-mail proof.) Beyond the technical issues, Current never provided a list of acceptable guest hosts for the (many) days Olbermann took off — the only name they did put forward: Eliot Spitzer, who inherited Olbermann’s time slot and his staff.
But the complaints were not solely on Olbermann’s part. Yesterday we learned that Olbermann, who was being paid some $10 million a year, had missed 19 of 41 working days in January and February and had ignored executives’ demands that he work the day before Super Tuesday. (He also skipped several other Election Nights, apparently.) According to the network, this “material, serial” breach of his contract is what prompted Olbermann’s dismissal. But more than that, they charged him with “sabotaging the network,” a plot point which Kurtz’s e-mail analysis filled in today.
Seems Olbermann refused to promote the network, which was stipulated in his contract, or even the shows that came on after Countdown. Also:
Current officials were rankled that on the nights that he was off, Olbermann wouldn’t allow his staffers to promote Countdown or its guest hosts, even through Twitter updates. (Olbermann did plenty of promotional tweets when he was anchoring.)
Price’s riposte to one of the accusations: It was “inexcusable” that his client was asked to “identify incorrect programming following Countdown. If people cannot trust him to correctly identify the programming, his credibility on larger matters comes into question.” Another network complaint:
Some at Current were miffed when Olbermann refused to talk to certain executives except through his lawyer or agent; his team believed they were following procedures set down by Hyatt.
But the few times Olbermann did try and go direct to, for instance, Al Gore, he was politely rebuffed. According to Kurtz: “Gore had dealt with big egos in politics, but he and Hyatt told colleagues they had never dealt with anyone quite like Olbermann.”
As for why Olbermann ultimately went through eight different car services, the network believed it was because, as Kurtz put it, he kept “finding fault with each one, sometimes objecting when drivers talked to him.” Although Price had warned, in an earlier memo, that he was hearing from vendors that Current had fallen behind in their payments.
These competing realities will likely only be sorted out by a jury, since a lawsuit between the jilted Olbermann (who TMZ says had been considering an early exit from what he called a “ragtag operation“) and Current TV now seems all but inevitable. Chances are it’ll be just as acrimonious as these past two days have been.