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Keith Olbermann has jumped the shark. That's a reasonable interpretation of Howard Rosenberg's incisive TV column in the LA Times on Saturday. How else to interpret a piece that appears under the headline, "Is Olbermann's snide act on MSNBC the future of TV news?"And Rosenberg's answer to that question is obviously, "I sure as heck hope not." But there's an element of the forlorn in Rosenberg's authorial voice.
"Jump the shark," of course, is a key concept in television. Yes, it's mostly associated with television entertainment, as opposed to television news, and so whole whole websites are devoted to the question of which show is going over the edge. That is veering--more likely, plummeting--into derivative, unimaginative, self-parody. That's what happened to Fonzie on "Happy Days" (pictured above). Eventually, they ran out of funny or amusing scripts for that set of characters; in desperation, they put Fonzie on water skis, and the rest is bad-television history.
Now, Cable Gamers, here's Rosenberg on Olbermann:
The leer, the smug histrionics, the relentless needling, the shameless self-puffery, the accusatory rants excoriating Bushies and other Republicans as well as cable competitor Fox and its temperamental bully, Bill O'Reilly. And, of course, the comedy.
That's unintentional comedy, of course.
And so Rosenberg goes on to ask a good question that Cable Gamers ought to think about:
But is his ends-justifies-means credo good for the news biz? The answer is no, even if you dislike the president and his policies as much as Olbermann does. I do, and can still testify that watching Olbermann collect Republican scalps like baseball cards is only marginally more rewarding than watching his favorite foil, O'Reilly, batter guests who don't share his wacky views.
But at least O'Reilly invites dissenters to his lair (if only to disembowel them), whereas "Countdown" is more or less an echo chamber in which Olbermann and like-minded bobbleheads nod at each other.
Of course, in the short run, this strategy is working for MSNBC. But surely, Olbermann can't keep it up much longer.
So just one key question: What will Olbermann do if his man, Barack Obama, wins the White House? Will he continue to be slavering toward Obama and the Democrats, even when they're in charge? Or will be be a cheerleader for them? The Cable Gamer is reminded of a joke told about the Germans: They are either at your feet--or at your throat. That could be Olbermann.
Cross-posted from The Cable Game