LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - U.S. cable news television network MSNBC and its top anchor, Keith Olbermann, abruptly parted ways on Friday, less than three months after the liberal broadcaster was suspended for campaign donations to Democrats.
Olbermann, who had two years left on his contract, signed off for the last time on his “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” political affairs program on Friday night.
“This is the last edition of “Countdown,” Olbermann said on the program, which drew over 1 million viewers a night.
“MSNBC and Keith Olbermann have ended their contract,” the network said in a statement. Neither Olbermann nor MSNBC gave a reason for the move.
His departure came just over two months after MSNBC briefly suspended Olbermann for giving money to three Democratic politicians during the congressional election campaign, including Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was coincidentally shot and wounded in an assassination attempt on January 8 in Tucson, Arizona.
“MSNBC thanks Keith for his integral role in MSNBC’s success and we wish him well in his future endeavors,” the network statement said.
Olbermann, whose talks with MSNBC management about his future at the company had been going on for some time, seemed to suggest during his signoff that the decision to leave MSNBC had not been entirely his own.
“I think the same fantasy popped into the head of everybody in my business who has ever been told what I have been told, this will be the last edition of your show,” he said.
He then mentioned the 1976 movie “Network,” where a news anchor declares, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” and persuades viewers to yell out their windows.
Olbermann’s program helped define MSNBC as a liberal voice in cable television and a counterpoint to Fox News’ largely conservative bent. MSNBC is now second in cable news ratings behind Fox News and ahead of CNN.
The outspoken former sportscaster with ESPN went to work for MSNBC in 2003. He had the highest-rated host on MSNBC. The New York Times said he signed a $30 million four-year contract extension in 2008.
Olbermann would often take aim at conservative politicians and commentators, in a segment he called “The Worst Person in the World.” His targets included rival commentator Bill O’Reilly from Fox News and New York 2010 Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino.
MSNBC is a network in transition. Comcast Corp earlier this week won approval from the Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Justice Department for its combination with NBC Universal, the company behind MSNBC.
Once the deal closes, Comcast will acquire a 51 percent stake in NBC Universal from General Electric Co.
Jeremy Gaines, a spokesman for MSNBC, said Comcast had nothing to do with Olbermann’s departure.
Comcast said in a statement it did not yet have operational control of MSNBC.
“We pledged from the day the deal was announced that we would not interfere with NBC Universal’s news operations,” Comcast said. “We have not and we will not.”
MSNBC said it would move its relatively new show “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” to the 8 p.m. “Countdown” time slot.
Additional reporting by Yinka Adegoke; Editing by Peter Cooney