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.