Lawrence O’Donnell ended his first 8 PM episode of The Last Word on MSNBC by paying tribute to Keith Olbermann. O’Donnell said of Olbermann, “What Keith invented and taught us to do. Op- ed TV… Keith delivered 20 a month. 20 a month. Hundreds of episodes a year. Hundreds of op-eds a year. Year in and year out. For eight years. I have no idea how he did it. None of us do. No one in television history has ever done anything like it.”
Here is the video from MSNBC:
After O’Donnell described his first experience guest hosting Countdown, he said, “I went on to host more times than anyone wanted me to. Keith stayed at his father’s bedside for what turned out to be his final days. I hosted all but one show in March of 2010. Keith’s time away from the show last year was not a restful one. There was certainly no time to rest when he returned. Consider what Keith invented and taught us to do. Op- ed TV.”
O’Donnell discussed how difficult it is to do what Olbermann did, “The incomparable Maureen Dowd is a friend of mine. I know if I told her I wanted her to do five op-ed columns in a week, she would tell me that’s impossible and ask me if I know how hard it is to do even one. I do know. I’ve done a few, very few. That’s why I marveled, as any writer must, at what Keith was doing five op-eds a week, each of them much, much longer than the standard 800 words.”
He continued, “This is the only place in television where people are surprised if you leave after eight years. In the entertainment division of this company, if a show like, say, “The West Wing” wins every possible award and runs for seven years, everyone just applauds an extraordinary show for an extraordinary run. I saw – I saw exactly how exhaust exhausted the great Aaron Sorkin was after delivering 22 episodes a year of “The West Wing.” Well, Keith delivered 20 a month. 20 a month. Hundreds of episodes a year. hundreds of op-eds a year. Year in and year out. For eight years. I have no idea how he did it. None of us do. No one in television history has ever done anything like it.”
He concluded by thanking Olbermann, “No one knew it could be done before he did it, and in doing it, he took MSNBC to new heights. I know that I now occupy a platform built for me by Keith Olbermann. Had he not built this show, and welcomed me to it, I would be at home tonight watching – I don’t know, the real housewives of somewhere. I thank you, Keith, and my 92-year-old mother thanks you, too. She could never stay awake past that first commercial break in my 10:00 show.”
O’Donnell had it right. Olbermann did do something unique with Countdown. For me, the nightly op-ed format was not the most exciting thing. I thought Olbermann could from time to time lose the balance between emotion and fact on Countdown, and he could be endlessly exasperating even to those on the left when they disagreed with him, but back when the left had no one on television speaking for them, Keith Olbermann provided a strong anti-Bush voice on television.
It is that strong voice that we will be missing until Olbermann returns to the air this fall. In a media landscape that is dominated by loud right wing talkers, Keith Olbermann’s voice will be missed even if is only until the fall. Olbermann did pave the way for the MSNBC that we see today. Keith deserves credit for what he was able to accomplish, and it was fitting to see Lawrence O’Donnell give the Keith the proper sendoff that his surprise Friday night goodbye did not provide.
O’Donnell’s tribute also ought to help put to rest the idea that Olbermann was secretly fired by Comcast. As details continue to leak out, it is now clear that Olbermann wanted to leave, and that his lawyers had been negotiating his exit for almost two months before he left. Lawrence O’Donnell did a very classy thing tonight, and here’s hoping that Countdown viewers give The Last Word a shot.