The stormy relationship between Keith Olbermann and NBC executives has finally come to its natural conclusion, with Olbermann abruptly announcing on air last night that that episode of 'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' would be his last. Olbermann, who rose to stardom during the Bush years as the loudest cable news voice on the left, represented a natural foil to Fox News hosts such as Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity, and exemplified MSNBC's own push to the left in reaction to Fox's cornering of the conservative cable news market. Depending on who you talk to, he is either an arrogant jackass, a principled hero of the left, or maybe just that guy who used to be a Sportscenter anchor.
While Olbermann's ratings never rose to challenge those of the more popular conservative commentators at Fox, ratings-wise he was MSNBC's heavyweight in a stable of liberal commentators that is now left with the wonky and weird Rachel Maddow, blowhard-in-chief Chris Matthews, and neophytes Lawrence O'Donnell (who will take Olbermann's 8 pm slot) and Ed Schultz.
Olbermann, who last year was briefly suspended for making political contributions to 3 Democratic Congressional candidates (including Gabrielle Giffords), clashed repeatedly with the higher-ups at NBC, and their relationship apparently became irreparable after the suspension fiasco (where Olbermann was suspended but reinstated in a whirlwind 48 hours).
For MSNBC, they lose a reliable ratings booster, but can at least breathe a sigh of relief knowing that they will no longer have to go through daily power struggles with an egomaniac of Olbermann's level. It also accelerates the process of lifting Lawrence O'Donnell's national profile.
The next step for Olbermann seems less certain. There isn't much money in left wing talk radio, and a Fox News talk show is certainly out of the question. He could end up landing with CNN, whose insistence on political neutrality in the era of the louder voices at MSNBC and Fox News has left them playing catch-up in the ratings race.