As MSNBC continues its hard news makeover, an old star appears to have accidentally hinted that he might be on the verge of a comeback.
Appearing on “Real Time with Bill Maher” on Friday, Keith Olbermann deflected a question about whether his abrupt departure in 2011 led to the network’s subsequent ratings slide.
An unusually tame, buttoned-up Olbermann answered that he couldn’t answer what the source of MSNBC’s struggles were and he didn’t want to be “unfair to his friends that are still there.”
Decoded in real media speak: “I’m currently negotiating with MSNBC chairman Andy Lack about returning to primetime, so I plead the fifth!”
Olbermann concluded with an out-of-left field explanation about how cord-cutting has hurt his former network. Though the tidbit about cord cutting is true — and not exclusive to MSNBC — the often bombastic host was clearly avoiding speaking negatively about his former network.
This was a stark departure from just last year, when he said he’d stopped watching his own network two years before leaving.
The tongue-tied display seemed prudent as recent reports indicate Olbermann has met with Lack, presumably not to discuss each other’s holiday plans.
Former CBS News VP Joe Peyronnin sees the virtue of a comeback.
“MSNBC’s ratings are particularly weak at the critical 8pm ET hour,” he told TheWrap. “Olbermann would give that time period a real boost — but he will need to be on his best behavior or he will blow up again.”
But as TheWrap previously reported, Olbermann’s brash style would potentially plant a “time bomb” at MSNBC; a point Peyronnin agreed with.
“He is difficult to manage, and in prior jobs exercised bad judgement that has led to firing,” he concluded.
Network chairman Lack may be willing to roll the dice on Olbermann to boost the entire network. Although total viewers has climbed upward since more traditional news replaced opinion in daytime, TheWrap previously reported advertising-coveted 25-54 demo has been bleeding viewers.
Olbermann’s return — most likely to his old 8 p.m. timeslot, currently inhabited by Chris Hayes — would give a jolt to primetime and reinsert Olbermann as one of the main faces at a network not ready to fully toss aside its liberal programming.
At least in primetime.
MSNBC declined to comment on the record to TheWrap regarding whether it’s had conversations with Olbermann.