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It may have been a sudden surprise to Keith Olbermann that his show has been canceled ... but it's something I've seen coming since around the time Rachel Maddow got her TV show. And, arguably, Olbermann, of all people, should have seen it coming long before anybody did ... since he has, demonstrably, seen this movie before. Heck, he quotes from this movie all the time. The movie in question is Network.

For those of you who've never seen Network before, shame on you. I'm not even going to spoiler-cut my summary because it's a classic, it's like spoiler-cutting Citizen Kane or Lord of the Rings or the gospels. An elderly veteran network news anchor, Howard Beale, gets laid off for lousy ratings, and uses his sign-off to threaten that he will commit suicide on the air at the end of his last broadcast. This attracts so much attention to the network that the network's head of entertainment programming instead gives him own show as "the shouting prophet for our times," pads the show with other news-lite features like man on the street interviews and opinion poll results and an astrology segment, and Beale goes on to make a steady living off of being angry, if somewhat wittily so, about 1970s government, economics, and crime.

Things start to go downhill fast for Beale, though, after he pisses off the CEO of the network's parent corporation by stirring up his fans against the sale of the network to foreign investors; the CEO persuades Beale that he's wrong to rail against corporate capitalist economics, that he should embrace it. So Beale changes his tune on the air, becomes the gloomy prophet of how nothing can ever change, because sadly, this really is as good as it gets. His pessimism kills the ratings, but the CEO loves his show now and won't let the entertainment division take him off the air. When the losses get too severe, network management has him assassinated.

This. This, right here? This is who Keith Olbermann identifies with, who he's modeled himself after, who he quotes and alludes to quotes from all the time: "the first man in history to be killed because he had lousy ratings." As someone who (like me) loves the movie Network, as someone who quotes it all the time, he had zero excuse to be surprised that if he modeled himself after Howard Beale, it ended badly for him.

And you know what? I'm not going to miss him. I mark that first Special Comment as the beginning of the end for him; over the course of the next year, the show went from being my favorite show to becoming something I couldn't stand to watch. Olbermann started out angry at the Republicans; his refusal to breathlessly cover every minor detail of the Clinton impeachment had cost him his previous job. He got even angrier as Bush the Younger lied us into Iraq. But his brain actually visibly snapped when Vice President Cheney, angry over Olbermann's opposition to the Iraq War, publicly compared Olbermann to Nazi appeasing British prime minister Neville Chamberlain. Olbermann took it personally. He shouldn't have; it deserved to be laughed at, not screamed about. But he did take it very personally, permanently personally. And every day from them until the present, he has gotten angrier and angrier and angrier, to the point where it seems like the few minutes each Friday evening that he publicly grieved for his dead father were the only times he wasn't snarling mad.

There were liberals who were refreshed, back in 2003, that somebody on television was as angry about the Iraq War as we were (and are). But 8 years of ever-increasing, unquenchable rage was guaranteed to get old over time. And then Rachel Maddow got the show after his, and showed (seemingly effortlessly) that it's possible to be just as outraged by militarism and Reaganomics as Olbermann is, just as offended by them, and to mock them, without ever taking it personally, without ever losing your temper. Maddow stays friends with the conservatives whose principles she mocked; she wasn't kidding, the other day, when she accepted Meghan McCain's request to go with her to the next national NRA convention as McCain's date. Maddow laughs her way through almost every show; when events are beyond mockery, she merely gets serious, never visibly enraged. The contrast with Olbermann couldn't be more painfully obvious, to his detriment.

And, of course, it's probably not a coincidence that Olbermann's termination was announced 5 minutes after the FCC's decision to approve the NBC/Comcast merger. But it was long overdue, anyway.



( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 22nd, 2011 04:44 am (UTC)
Somebody needed to be out loud angry at these Repug cocksuckers.

Jan. 22nd, 2011 07:35 am (UTC)
Jan. 22nd, 2011 07:35 am (UTC)
if the media really was "liberal" there shouldve been 30 guys like him.
Jan. 22nd, 2011 04:49 am (UTC)
Great point about Maddow!
And I've linked to it on her show's blog: http://maddowblog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/01/21/5894216-changing-times-in-workplace-safety?threadId=3034733&commentId=51078311#c51078311

I started watching MSNBC because of her. I regarded KO as the lead-in.
Jan. 22nd, 2011 05:18 am (UTC)
I pretty much agree. I liked the special comments at first, but when they starting coming almost every day and became more and more ranty it started to go downhill. Maddow is savvier, saner, and a better fact-checker. Regardless, I think it's unfortunate that he should meet such an end, but am not surprised. He's been publicly fighting with his management for years.

I'm inclined to think that we shouldn't jump the gun in claiming Comcast had anything to do with it when all the facts aren't out yet. But it sure is bloody likely.
Jan. 22nd, 2011 08:06 am (UTC)
Yeah, and the fact-checking thing relates one other thing went downhill around the same time, which he used to get right, which Maddow gets right, which he stopped doing altogether around that time:

Prior to the era of the Special Comments, most of Olbermann's guests were either the actual news makers, Congressmen and so forth, or else they were topic-matter experts: professors, historians, people who'd written the book on the subject that the segment was about. Not always, but most of the time. Most of the time, so are hers. But every year after 2003, it seemed like the percentage of people who were actual experts who were on his show to tell us things we didn't already know went down, and the percentage of people who were fellow bloggers, commentators, or columnists who were just on there to agree with Olbermann went up.

Look, on a news analysis show, the only time I want to hear the host interview a fellow journalist is if that journalist has done actual first-hand reporting on the subject. When the subject is Afghanistan, it raises my opinion of Rachel Maddow that she depends on Richard Engel, who's spent more time in Afghanistan than most of our embassy personnel have, and who's talked with more Afghanis than anybody but a couple of our Special Forces guys have. I do not want to hear (for example) what Eugene Robinson has to say on the subject -- not least of which when I know what he's going to say on the subject, he's going to repeat back everything Olbermann says, with a nod and a half-laugh.

Olbermann used to be good as his job. He was never as good at it as Maddow is, but he used to be good at it, nonetheless. These days, he really is the left's Michael Savage ... and was heading into Don Imus territory.

Edited at 2011-01-22 08:12 am (UTC)
Jan. 22nd, 2011 05:33 pm (UTC)
Exactly. I am also very tired of his "everything is about me" attitude. His behavior over the Assange rape allegations (and the #mooreandme Twitter protest) made me realize that at core, Olbermann is a bully with whom I sometimes share politics.
Jan. 22nd, 2011 07:35 am (UTC)
I am gonna miss him. His anger is totally justified. The only shame is that there are so few people in the supposed "liberal" media like him.
Jan. 22nd, 2011 10:47 am (UTC)
Both sides
User supergee referenced to your post from Both sides saying: [...] and con [...]
Jan. 22nd, 2011 04:54 pm (UTC)
it's like spoiler-cutting Citizen Kane or Lord of the Rings or the gospels.

If you haven't seen/read/heard it, it's new to you. Yeah, CITIZEN KANE was totally spoilered for me long before I ever saw it, so I never got to enjoy any of the impact they'd worked to create. Why is it okay to spoil something for being good?


Like I said earlier today, the USA political spectrum only goes from infrared to reddish orange. If you're orange, you're called ultraviolet. Orange says "hateful" things. Infrared puts them into action.

Anyway, I'll miss him. And her too, when they can her. I guess we'll fill the time with more hourlong prison porn shows.
Jan. 22nd, 2011 10:42 pm (UTC)
Those comments were unkind. I apologize.
Jan. 22nd, 2011 11:13 pm (UTC)
Okay. Never mind what I was going to say, then.
Jan. 22nd, 2011 07:02 pm (UTC)
I don't buy that he was surprised at all. I'm sure he decided a long time ago that it was only a matter of time, so why not stir up as much shit as he can while he has a chance? Besides, the Comcast deal was as close to a date certain as anyone could expect.
Jan. 24th, 2011 09:27 pm (UTC)
I knew there was something about the show that had changed and why I was more interested in the Maddow side, excepting perhaps for Special Comments and the WPITW section, where the mockery knives came out. Thanks for putting a finger on it. That said, I do think that he covered segments of the news that needed to be covered, which left Rachel to do what she does. I wonder how the post-Olbermann shows will go, as to whether The Last Word will fill that void, or whether it will be the first half of the O'Donnell-Maddow mockery and variety hour.
Jan. 25th, 2011 05:48 pm (UTC)
A weekend's worth of information - 22-24 January 2011
User silveradept referenced to your post from A weekend's worth of information - 22-24 January 2011 saying: [...] were predictors of what his style had eventually become, and at some point, he was going to be cut [...]
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )