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Keith Olbermann Returns to TV Tonight: What To Expect

New freedom from a new channel means Olbermann's "Olbermann-ness" is going to skyrocket -- great news for progressives.
 
 
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Keith Olbermann is the kind of person who is unfailingly himself at all times. Whether on television or in interviews, he never seems like he's putting us on, and he's gained a huge, dedicated fanbase for being an unwavering, concise, passionate, intense and sometimes outrageous person.
 
But when "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" returns to the small screen tonight, the show will be more “Olbermann” than ever. Armed with the new freedom that comes from broadcasting on an independent station like Al Gore’s Current TV, Olbermann will be able to more comfortably express himself. Which is not to say he was hemmed in too much at MSNBC. Earlier this month, he told Rolling Stone that they never censored him. (“What were they going to do about it? It was live,” said Olbermann. “I will say this. Nobody ever said: If you say this, you're going to be fired.")

But a quick glance at his new roster of contributors hints that the resurrected "Countdown" is stretching out in its newly broad boundaries. For one, comedian Richard Lewis -- the acerbic Brooklynite known for his all-black outfits and sniping sarcasm -- is scheduled to be a regular on the show. “Comedians,” Olbermann told Rolling Stone, “are the only ones paid to tell the truth in public discourse. Everybody else—politicians, news broadcasters, religious figures—we're all paid to be oracles, when in fact we are like a good public-relations man. A good public-relations man keeps you away from the public, and if you have relations, he keeps that hidden.”

Yet Olbermann’s own “public-relations” contributors, in the journalism category, each have their own strength at truthtelling. Michael Moore is on the team, as is Rolling Stone reporter Matt Taibbi, and Ken Burns. And in a new promo spot for Current, Olbermann suggests that he’s one of the keepers of the truth, too. “The free flow of information has been thwarted...and for every story there’s a flurry of heavily biased, corporate-sponsored spin, that can distract even the most engaged viewer,” he says, a rousing piano riff playing beneath him. “And every day, we’re all left with a bit less clarity...until now.”

Indeed, Olbermann does seem to feel liberated in his new home, telling Rolling Stone:

“I can't say anything I want; there will be some things I'm sure I'll have to temper. But I can't think of any of them off the top of my head, and when I encounter them, it will be like, ‘Crap, that was the first one in eight months.’ That's why I view this as the biggest step-up of my career. The instantaneous reaction to this was, ‘He's going into the far wilderness.’ No, it's virgin forest, and I own it, and I'm bringing a house with me. I have the opportunity to rebuild it better and start looking for people to do the next hour and the next hour, the whole operation. We'll make mistakes, but it will be such a great relief to not have to spend all day executive-icizing, and just go out and do what I'm really good at. This is as close as I'll get to a comedian's freedom."

On Friday, Olbermann had a conference  call with journalists to discuss plans for his new show and that specific Olbermann-ness that, perhaps, made MSNBC eventually shy away from a top star. On the call, Olbermann assured us that he will not be veering from his pet topics -- health care in particular -- nor will his show suddenly lose the courage fans admire him for. “[Current] considers ourselves...an independent TV network. And in many senses we are alternative media, because we are doing something different than what has been done with the last 30 years of news.”