Keith Olbermann re-enters cable news fray tonight

By Jeff Pfeiffer

Like him or loathe him — and there seem to be few who fall in between — you can’t deny that Keith Olbermann has gotten attention throughout his career, whether as a sportscaster or as a political commentator. The fiery Olbermann’s passion and intellect cannot be questioned, though his strong independent streak (some would say bordering on anti-authority) has helped lead to his departures from several gigs over the years, most recently from MSNBC in January. In his last few months at the network, Olbermann seemed frustrated by the confinement he appeared to feel at not being able to say or do as much he he would have liked. Although it was no secret that Olbermann subscribes to a liberal/progressive philosophy, watching him, he seemed to feel increasingly unsatisfied that, with his network’s corporate ownership, he could not truly let loose with his thoughts, even though fans and opponents alike thought he railed plenty. But were those outbursts part of his frustration, or just part of who he is? Perhaps both.

Tonight, we get to potentially see Olbermann’s progressive vision fully unleashed as he relaunches Countdown With Keith Olbermann at 8pm ET on Current TV (airing weeknights). Olbermann, who has also been named Current’s Chief News Officer, calls his new home “this medium’s new primary network for progressive news.” With Olbermann appearing to now have the creative control he has desired, will we see a more content Keith? Someone who retains the passion and intelligence but able to get his point across in a less abrasive — but still firm — manner. Will he be happier as he goes about his mission, and not seem to have the underlying anger that turned off even some of his followers toward the end of his MSNBC run?

We will see. It’s going to be daunting, considering Current does not yet have massive carriage (it reaches about 75 million homes worldwide). But Olbermann had, and maintains, a loyal group of followers who migrated with him over to his Twitter account and will likely tune in, and spread the word online through video clip sharing. Current will likely give Olbermann’s show room to breathe and grow and, given its strong online component, will probably give audiences who can’t watch Olbermann on TV the chance to view him via the web. (Olbermann has already begun putting up some “Special Comments” and other clips on the show’s website.)

Olbermann is bringing with him a number of contributors who added insights to his MSNBC show, including journalists Matt Taibbi and Jeremy Scahill; former White House counsel to Richard Nixon, John Dean; filmmaker Michael Moore; Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos and others. (Olbermann tweeted earlier today that Moore and Moulitsas would be guests on tonight’s premiere.)

It sounds like a perfect environment in which the perfectionistic Olbermann could flourish, to some degree anyway. Hopefully he can continue to add an intelligent voice (at a lower volume) to the political debate, and not have to end up letting himself go from this gig.