Restarting the “Countdown”: Keith Olbermann Tacks Left

“Countdown with Keith Olbermann” is back on the air after its host walked out on MSNBC a little more than five months ago. The most notable difference is that Olbermann is letting his political hair down in the program’s Current TV incarnation, revealing himself as far more liberal than he was on MSNBC. In a Special Comment following a segment with contributor Michael Moore, Olbermann laid out the underlying principle of “Countdown”:

For now, Current TV is repeating “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” in heavy rotation throughout the day along with documentaries from their greatly underrated series “Vanguard” (think “Dateline NBC”, but with actual relevance to contemporary society and strong journalistic value).

Many of the trappings of the old “Countdown” are there. but there are differences – some nuanced, some huge. I didn’t find the set visually attractive, but then, one is not watching “Countdown” for the window-dressing. The graphics are a bit less sophisticated and far less frequent than the MSNBC incarnation, and that’s actually a good thing – because most cable news looks cluttered, cartoonish, distracting, and gimmicky. I do like the new, newsier-sounding theme and segment music, which is a complete contrast to the irritating, crass noise heard on MSNBC; the producers have retained the four-bar quote from (and restored the timpani to) the opening of the scherzo from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (a nod to “The Huntley-Brinkley Report”, for those old enough to remember).

The format has changed little, but the signature two-minute top-story teaser intro was far more unbuttoned than anything Olbermann did on MSNBC; people are still buzzing on Twitter, DU and Facebook about the taped clip of Sen. John McCain asking – about Libya – “I wonder what Pres. Reagan would say today?”

Olbermann’s reply? “Nothing. He’s dead. He was a lousy president. And he helped keep Qaddafi in power.”

This was just the first indication that we would see a more vehement Olbermann than viewers were permitted to see on his previous outlet. And Olbermann’s not throwing softballs to contributors and guests, either; he picks his questions to give them a chance to actually expound for more than fifteen seconds. Michael Moore talked Libya, and John Dean looked at the latest in a litany of ethical and legal questions surrounding Supreme Court Clarence Thomas. I especially enjoyed the segment with Daily Kos‘s Markos Moulitsas – and the comeuppance they both dished out to Joe “Congressman with dead aide in the office” Scarborough and Phil “The Grave” Griffin over the de facto banning of Moulitsas on MSNBC.

American Politics Journal was, I believe, the first online ‘zine to review the original incarnation of “Countdown”. We’re not the first this time around, but we can assure you it’s appointment television – and their companion Web presence is loaded with streamable segments.

If you don’t get Current TV, you can point your browser, at least for the time being, to the real-time stream at ReadyTV.

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