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Current TV boasts Keith Olbermann and more

Current TV boasts Keith Olbermann and more

February 10th, 2011 by FRAZIER MOORE, AP Television Writer in News

NEW YORK (AP) - Cable's Current TV has existed rather quietly since its launch in 2005. But earlier this week, it made some noise with its announcement that liberal talk-show host Keith Olbermann, late of MSNBC, would soon be joining the network.

The declaration, made Tuesday, even threatened to upstage news of Current's slate of other shows a day later at its "upfront" presentation for advertisers.

But the overarching message escaped no one: Current, perhaps best known for its chairman and co-founder, Al Gore, is ready to raise its profile.

"We always knew it would take time to connect with the large audience that we know is out there for our programming," Gore said in an interview before Wednesday's presentation. "We are poised for a real breakout."

Gore's partner, vice chairman Joel Hyatt, went further.

"It's an explosion point," Hyatt said. "We're exploding onto the scene, putting together a whole bunch of stuff that we know is going to work great."

The network will welcome Olbermann this spring in a weeknight prime-time talk show, which is likely to resemble "Countdown," the show he hosted until recently on MSNBC.

"We're independent, and that's what Keith prizes," said Gore, referring to the fact that Current is a privately held company. "We are not part of a conglomerate. We don't answer to anyone but ourselves." (MSNBC is owned by NBC Universal, of which communications giant Comcast Corp. recently took 51 percent control.)

Gore suggested that the hiring of Olbermann, who chafed under MSNBC's corporate management, had caught the eye of other disgruntled TV figures.

Since Tuesday's announcement, Gore said, "We've already had a number of very interesting contacts."

He declined to be specific about the inquiries, explaining, "I doubt at this point any of those would necessarily work out. But we are getting a lot."

Current is available in 60 million homes in the U.S., roughly two-thirds the number reached by MSNBC. Even so, Olbermann's presence could make a big difference at Current, which, according to Nielsen Co. figures, was watched by an average of 28,000 viewers in prime time in the fourth quarter of 2010.

At MSNBC, Olbermann drew an average of 1 million viewers nightly, and Current CEO Mark Rosenthal proposed that a comparable number "might certainly be in the cards for us."

While Olbermann (who will also serve as the network's chief news officer) is poised to become the face of Current, the network has new shows to pitch beside his.

They include "Smoke Jumpers," showcasing an elite group of wildlife firefighters in the Northern Rockies forests, and another docu-series, "4th and Forever," about the do-or-die challenges facing the football squad at Long Beach (Calif.) Polytechnic High School, which has sent more players to the National Football League than any other high school in the country.

A groundbreaking scripted series debuts Friday at 10 p.m. EST.

"Bar Karma" is billed as "the first community-developed TV series." From raw concept to characters to stories to the names of fancy cocktails, this live-action sci-fi show, set in a bar on the edge of the universe, is the product of continuing input from thousands of participants at its "online studio."

The notion for a crowd-sourced TV series was hatched by video-game maestro Will Wright ("The Sims"). On Wednesday, he noted that "Bar Karma" had reversed the typical pattern, where TV shows spawn online communities.

"We built the community first, and we're getting a tremendous amount of involvement and participation ahead of the show actually starting," he said.

Now, after a year of interactive incubation, the show is going on the air, and Wright predicted that interest in "Bar Karma" should escalate.

"People who were already interested in this project are going to be evangelists," he said. "Even if all they did was pick the color of a character's dress in an episode, they're going to be talking to everybody they know about it."

The series harks back to the earliest days of Current, which began with a program lineup dominated by viewer-generated short videos. But "Bar Karma" involves viewers on an unprecedented scale.

"The creativity of the mass audience can become an incredible innovative force," said Gore, voicing hope that "someday, people will look back at this show and say, 'Wow, that's when something brand-new started - when the people were let into the television medium in a brand-new way."'


Current TV is owned by Current Media.