Monday, January 24, 2011
Keith Olbermann Says Goodbye
I was caught by surprise Friday by Keith Olbermann's departure from MSNBC, as, I suspect, were many.
I'm not a student of ratings, so I have no idea how his show was doing, but as Howard Stern said about Doug Trachte, the Greaseman, when Trachte was fired from radio for racist statements, "If his ratings were better, they wouldn't have let him go."
Economics, ultimately, rule the commercial airwaves. It doesn't really matter how tasteless you are (and Keith always struck me as somewhat tasteful: the beautifully tailored suits, the $100.00 haircut), it only matters how much money you are making for your sponsors and your network.
I liked Keith's show at times. Of course it was unbalanced. Keith never claimed to be the voice of reason. If you want to hear that voice, tune in Rachel Maddow, whose show is probably the smartest on TV, besides NOVA.
Conservative pundits have a curious set of rules that govern what they can say. Even as he presents himself as a guardian of "family values" (whatever that means), Rush Limbaugh can mock Michael J. Fox's Parkinson's Disease symptoms with total impunity.
Frankly, there's not enough liberals mocking anything these days as far as I'm concerned. Liberals are so afraid of offending some group or another that there's very little wiggle room for them to be pissed off publicly, but Keith managed to find that room and glory in it.
When Keith did get pissed off, he was very good at saying why he was pissed off. Interestingly, in the clip above he compares himself to Howard Beale, the "Mad as hell..." character in Paddy Chayevsky's script for the movie Network. But he never seemed quite that angry.
I recently read Roger Kahn's biography of Jack Dempsey. Kahn spends a lot of time writing about himself and his father and the times in which Dempsey thrived. Kahn is a sportswriter first and foremost, but he's a New Deal guy and he makes sure you know it.
That's how sports commentator and sports buff Keith Olbermann ran his show- like a sports writer. Not like a sports show (how much stupider can they get? The only worthwhile sports show is John Riggins', and that's because he hates Dan Snyder as much as I do, and says so), but like a classic Damon Runyun-eque sports column, the kind Philip Roth parodied so deftly in The Great American Novel.
So, I'm going to miss Keith. His labored attempts at humor (really, really dry), his liberal outrage (never that outrageous), the cut of his jib (whatever that means.) In these insipid, depressing times, Keith was refreshing. Not incredibly refreshing, just... refreshing. And now that's gone too.