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Olbermann Takes Current TV To Court For $70M

UPDATE: Olbermann's former employers countersue

As promised, Keith Olbermann is not giving up on his fight against Current TV. And just a week after the struggling cable channel cut him loose, Olbermann is suing for tens of millions of dollars he says Current TV cheated him out of when they cancelled his show and fired him from the network.

"In its most recent breach, Current unilaterally, and without cause, terminated its agreement with Olbermann," the lawsuit claimed. "Current's sudden and public termination of Olbermann was the latest in a series of increasingly erratic and unprofessional actions undertaken by Current's senior management."

That management was primarily former Vice President Al Gore and businessman Joel Hyatt, two people Olbermann said in his suit were "dilettantes portraying entertainment industry executives."

Current ended its relationship with Olbermann at the end of March, citing Olbermann's numerous vacation days -- including on days when he was needed to help anchor election coverage on the cable channel -- as well as public criticisms he made of the channel and its executives. In its public response to the suit, Current took a jab at Olbermann based on the reasons they gave for terminating him.

"We hope Mr. Olbermann understands that when it comes to the legal process, he is actually required to show up," Current said in a statement.

Olbermann claims he is owed up to $70 million still from the cable channel, a place where he was able to only attract a fraction of the audience he enjoyed during his days as the host of a similar show for MSNBC. He parted ways from that cable channel on bad terms at the beginning of 2011, which allowed him to end up on Current in the first place.

In his lawsuit, Olbermann claimed that Hyatt was way over his head, and was actually starstruck by the former Sportscenter host, saying he isolated Olbermann "from his professional representatives in an awkward attempt to form a close personal friendship" with him, according to CNN. When Olbermann didn't return the feelings, the lawsuit claims Hyatt would then withhold production resources and would attach his host publicly.

Gore and Hyatt, an attorney with ties to the Democratic Party, started Current in August 2005 after buying the channel NewsWorld International from Vivendi Universal. Having that cable channel allowed Current to use space already picked up on many cable and satellite carriers, and prevented the young company from having to start from scratch to get such carriage.

As part of Olbermann's hiring in 2011, Current revamped its format to something more similar to MSNBC. That included a number of talking head shows, including "Young Turks" radio host Cenk Uygur and former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm.

Former New York governor Eliot Spitzer replaced Olbermann in his timeslot, but has not been able to generate the audience the former host had.

Olbermann got his mainstream professional start with sports in the upstart CNN in 1981, and from there, it would be rocky. He joined ESPN in 1992 as an anchor on the network's popular "SportsCenter" program, but would get in trouble with the channel in 1997 when he made an unauthorized appearance on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," then hosted by former "SportsCenter" host Craig Kilborn.

Olbermann would leave ESPN later that year, and find himself at Fox Sports Net, where he hosted "The Keith Olbermann Evening News." He would be fired from there three years later, in 2001, for what he said was punishment for reporting on the potential sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team by Fox Sports Net owner Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch himself would tell reporters that he fired Olbermann because "he's crazy."

"Countdown With Keith Olbermann" premiered in March 2003 on MSNBC (his second stint on the cable channel, having another short-lived program there during the Monica Lewinsky scandal in the late 1990s).

Olbermann's show was one of the most popular on the cable channel, and he was able to bring other hosts -- like radio host Rachel Maddow -- into the fold. However, in October 2010, he was suspended for donating money to Democratic political candidates, something NBC news staffers are not allowed to do. He departed from MSNBC abruptly and without much explanation soon after his suspension ended.

A filed lawsuit typically contains just one side's claims in a pending court case. While the defendants in such a case may make a public statement, as Current TV did in this case, they are not expected to present a full defense until required to answer the complaint by the court. Just because claims appear in a lawsuit does not necessarily mean that such claims can be proven, or even reflect the full or partial truth.

UPDATE (4/7/12): Current TV has countersued Olbermann for unspecified damages, claiming he breached his contract by not showing up for work, and for leaking out details of his contract to the public.

Both Hyatt and Gore say they owe Olbermann no more money, and that his accusations that Current TV was "cheap" was surprising considering they gave the former host the highest compensation he's ever received, and equipped him with the largest staff he's ever had.

"In particular, Current seeks a determination that it is no longer obligated to pay a dime to Mr. Olbermann who, having already been paid handsomely for showing up sporadically and utterly failing to keep his end of the bargain, now seeks to be paid tens of millions more for not working at all," Current TV said in its countersuit.

The cable channel added more fuel to the drama when it pointed out it paid more than $50,000 in an eight-month period to eight different limousine companies because "none of the previous seven were able to meet [Olbermann's] Patrician standards for how to drive I'm around New York City."

About the Author

Michael Hinman is the founder and editor-in-chief for Airlock Alpha and the entire GenreNexus. He owns Nexus Media Group Inc., the parent corporation of the GenreNexus and is a veteran print journalist. He lives in Tampa, Fla.
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