ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Myanna Dellinger
University of South Dakota School of Law

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Didn't See This One Coming. . . . Yes We Did.

Keith_OlbermannKeith Olbermann (left) and Al Gore's (right) Current TV have filed suit against each other in Los Angeles Superior Court.  Olbermann claims Current TV violated his contract and owes him up to $70 million in unpaid compensation. Olbermann’s complaint specifies that he was publically terminated without cause, and he is suing for breach of contract, sabotage and disparagement.  Current TV’s cross-complaint seeks a declaratory judgment on the grounds that it acted within its contractual rights when it terminated Olbermann, as well as a determination that it no longer has to pay Olbermann, having already paid him handsomely while receiving a “pauper’s performance” in return.  As reported by, Current TV claims that Olbermann was too often an absentee anchor and simply did not live up to the terms of his contract, especially in terms of ratings.  Yet, Olbermann alleges that the subpar broadcast facilities at Current TV made it difficult for him to produce good ratings. 

As chronicled in the Santa Francisco Examiner, this is just the latest episode in the picaresque story of broadcaster Olbermann.  He anchored for ESPN until his unauthorized 1997 appearance on the “Daily Show” during which he referred to Bristol, CN, ESPN’s headquarters, as a “godforsaken place.”  In the words of ESPN spokesman, Mike Soltys, when Olbermann left he did not merely burn his bridges; he napalmed them.  From there, Olbermann went to MSNBC, but by 1998, he was so sick of reporting on the Monica Lewinsky scandal (who can blame him?), he left MSNBC, and joined Fox Sports.  He soon returned to MSNBC to host “Countdown with Keith Olbermann.”  As we have previously reported here, MSNBC agreed to pay him $7.5 million a year through the 2012 presidential election.  However, as we reported here, Olbermann called it quits in the middle of that contract—while on the air--for reasons that remain unclear. 

Which brings us to the current lawsuit.  In a statement reported by, Current TV spokeswoman, Laura Nelson characterized the lawsuit as follows: ‘when the law is on your side, you argue the law.  When the facts are on your side, you argue the facts.  When neither the law nor the facts are on your side, you pound the table. . . It is well established that over his professional career, Mr. Olbermann has specialized in pounding the table.”  On April 3, in an appearance on CBS’s “Late Show,” Olbermann said, “I screwed up really big on this.”  “It’s my fault it didn’t succeed in the sense that I didn’t think the whole thing through.”  Current TV quoted these comments in the first paragraph of its cross-complaint.

[JT & Christina Phillips]

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