Surprise announcement comes at end of Friday broadcast on same week as Comcast take-over of NBC receives DoJ approval
Progressive news host was half-way through 8-year, $30 million contract...
By Brad Friedman on 1/21/2011, 9:35pm PT  

No real clues what this is about, but Keith Olbermann announced, at the end of tonight's show, that it would be the last edition of Countdown with Keith Olbermann, MSNBC's top-rated program.

MSNBC, the nation's #2 rated cable news channel in primetime (behind Fox "News" and ahead of CNN), quickly released this terse announcement after the show:

MSNBC and Keith Olbermann have ended their contract. The last broadcast of "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" will be this evening. MSNBC thanks Keith for his integral role in MSNBC's success and we wish him well in his future endeavors.

The announcement comes at the end of the same week that the FCC & Dept. of Justice approved Comcast's takeover of NBC. Writing at Daily Beast, media critic Howard Kurtz reports, however, that "A knowledgeable official said the move had nothing to do with Comcast taking control of NBC next week, although the cable giant was informed when it received final federal approval for the purchase that Olbermann would be leaving the cable channel. This official described the dramatic divorce-Olbermann was about halfway through a four-year, $30 million contract-as mutual."

New York Times' Bill Carter similarly reports that "NBC executives said the move had nothing to do with the impending takeover of NBC Universal by Comcast."

However, TMZ reports tonight, that Olbermann "was fired" according to "MSNBC sources" and that "it had everything to do with Comcast's acquisition of NBC." Their sources said that "Comcast honchos did not like Keith's defiance and the way he played in the sandbox," whatever that means.

[Update: Comcast issues statement denying they had anything to do with any of this. More details in full UPDATE now posted at bottom of story after the video.]

At the beginning of his announcement, posted below, Olbermann suggests that he had been "told that this is going to be the last edition of your show." Few other clues are offered for the sudden departure in his closing statement.

Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall, who had been a guest at the top of tonight's show, says that he was "stunned" and "didn't sense anything different in Keith's manner or affect" during tonight's broadcast or inside the studio itself.

"There were a few more people than I'm used to seeing in the studio --- maybe two or three, seated, who seemed to be there to watch. (Something I don't remember seeing before)," he writes in an item tonight titled "What the hell was that about?" but says he saw "nothing that made me think twice that anything odd was going on."

The Times' Carter says that Lawrence O'Donnell, host of MSNBC's recently-added 10pm show The Last Word would take over the 8pm slot, Rachel Maddow would continue at 9pm, and progressive radio talker and host of MSNBC's 3pm The Ed Show, Ed Schultz, would take over O'Donnell's 10pm slot to fill out the new prime-time line-up.

Olbermann's announcement and final sign-off follows below...


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UPDATE: Mediate reports that office politics had more to do with the departure than anything, and Comcast issues a statement to say they had nothing to do with it. See below...

Sources tell Mediaite Keith Olbermann and MSNBC were headed for a breakup long before Comcast’s rise to power, but clearly something set the divorce into motion quickly today, with network promos set to run touting Olbermann’s role in MSNBC’s coverage of next week’s State of the Union address–and, notably, a Keith Olbermann promo running on MSNBC in the hour after the host signed off and left the network.
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Did Comcast–as many Countdown viewers seem to suspect–order Olbermann out? It appears that the end of the Olbermann era at MSNBC was not “ordered” by Comcast, nor was it a move to tone down the network’s politics. Instead, sources inside the network say it came down to the more mundane world of office politics–Olbermann was a difficult employee, who clashed with bosses, colleagues, and underlings alike, and with the Comcast-related departure of Jeff Zucker, and the rise of Maddow and O’Donnell, the landscape shifted, making an Olbermann exit suddenly seem well-timed.
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Update: Brian Stelter reports the following statement from Comcast:

“Comcast has not closed the transaction for NBCU and has no operational control at any of its properties including MSNBC. We pledged from the day the deal was announced that we would not interfere with NBCU’s news operations. We have not & we will not.”

UPDATE 1/22, 11:56am PT A few more bits and pieces of info from the Los Angeles Times today, including a report that Olbermann's severance agreement, reported to have been a matter of discussion for "several weeks", may keep him off competing channels for "about a year". If true, that would shut down, for now, the fair amount of speculation since the announcement last night that he might be heading to CNN to take over the 8p ET time-slot currently occupied by the troubled Parker/Spitzer show. [Hat-tip Ernie Canning in comments]...

Although Olbermann's last broadcast came without warning, tension between the network and the former sports broadcaster ... had been building for some time. Several weeks ago the two quietly began negotiating a severance, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.
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He did not indicate where he might be headed, although a person familiar with his exit agreement said it prevents him from turning up on a competing channel for about a year.