Was Current right to fire Keith Olbermann? The answer largely depends on where Current is headed and what it hopes to accomplish as a network.
The justification for firing Olbermann seems obvious -- he's a pompous, self-important prima donna who seems to think the media world revolves around him and that the rules don't apply. He talked trash about his network publicly, reportedly scrapped an expensive set and is alleged to have been notoriously absent from his show. Firing seems like a no brainer.
On the other hand, if Current has hopes to evolve away from being the fringe network that it is and connect with a larger mainstream audience, firing a talented pro like Keith and replacing him with a non-professional broadcaster like Eliot Spitzer was probably a bad move.
There is a universal truth in the broadcasting industry -- great broadcasters are mercurial and difficult to deal with. They have larger than life personalities and a grand sense of self-importance. However, it's exactly that recipe that usually creates success on the air.
When I discovered Ed Schultz doing local radio in Fargo, North Dakota, I knew immediately he had the right stuff to become a major national media personality. He had tremendous confidence in himself and a larger than life personality that was well earned through his years of success as a local broadcaster. He also had a hot temper that could ignite in a flash. Despite our mutual admiration for one another, we clashed often. But it was exactly that passion and oversized confidence that I knew would translate to broadcasting success. So I not only tolerated it, I welcomed it.
Another universal (and rather obvious) truth is -- if you want to be successful in the broadcast industry, stick with professional broadcasters. Broadcasting is a real craft that is developed through years of experience behind the microphone. The most successful broadcasters live, eat and breathe broadcasting. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, and Glen Beck aren't actors, activists, or former politicians. They're ego-maniacal broadcast pros who excel at their craft and know how to attract an audience.
Despite the fact that there is no shortage of great progressive broadcasters, Current is seemingly following the Air America model of building a network utilizing non-pros. If Al Gore is serious about growing Current into a network that can truly compete in the very challenging cable network landscape, he needs to take a more disciplined approach and develop his lineup with real professionals. (Note to Al: Take a closer look at your morning lineup of Bill Press and Stephanie Miller. They're real pros with vastly more broadcast experience than your primetime lineup.)
He also needs to recognize that real broadcasters are a different breed of animal. It takes a certain self-restraint to work with them effectively. But the resulting success usually justifies the headaches.