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Good Night and Good Luck – REDUX

Posted by jsoliver on February 22, 2007

Imagine Jon Stewart. Only imagine him smarter, more subtle, and doing a real news show.

That’s a little bit what MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann is like. On the surface, it’s not much different from a typical, straightforward newscast: the top five stories of the day are covered, important figures are interviewed, and there’s even a small break for the more trivial stories such as water-skiing squirrels. However, Olbermann’s acerbic, sardonic, and sometimes downright juvenile attitude makes Countdown one of the best news programs on television these days.

News programs can’t always be most adequately judged by their content. It’s of course true that such shows have to be judged by the factuality and relevance of the stories they cover, but a news program can also be judged by the style of its delivery. Mike Wallace for instance believes that the news was better when the anchors could smoke, and perhaps he’s got a point. People will care more about what the news is all about if they enjoy watching the news, and Keith Olbermann certainly knows how to make that happen.

Essentially a semi-professional comedian in a professional newscaster’s clothing, Keith Olbermann is well-known for his particular brand of esoteric humor. Spouting off a steady stream of harsh comments about public figures (having said of Rita Cosby, “Rita’s nice, but dumber than a suitcase of rocks”), maintaining hateful rivalries with such individuals as Bill O’Reilly and Ann Coulter, and doing a daily segment during which he picks the most terrible person in the world for that day. Olbermann certainly pulls no punches, an attitude he’s maintained since his days on ESPN (as well as throughout his controversial farewell to that network), and he’s not averse to being silly, either. For example, when Star Jones was forced to leave The View after her publicized scrape with Barbara Walters, Olbermann deemed it appropriate to run the now famous fifteen-second clip of Jones being hit in the face with a football over and over again as he reported the story. Primetime news has never been funnier.

But to say Countdown is worth watching merely because it’s funny is to do it a disservice. Olbermann may be a funny man, but he’s also a good reporter. The O’Reilly Factor feels the need to constantly convince its audience that it is a “No-Spin Zone,” but Countdown doesn’t need that. There’s something inherently trustworthy about a man who doesn’t feel the need to earn our trust, and the quality of the news is that much better. Indeed, Olbermann has even embraced the similarities that many people see between him and the late Edward Murrow, who is now remembered for taking on the system and winning big. And although he may not be bringing down a maniacal senator, Olbermann is certainly welcome on cable news networks. After all, we could use some more fearless voices in journalism these days.

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9 Responses to “Good Night and Good Luck – REDUX”

  1. jsoliver said

    Author’s Note: I was trying to give some information on a show that takes the traditional news program and essentially turns it on its head. By looking at something like Countdown (as well as something like The Daily Show), we see how traditional formats can be played with, as well as notice what those conforms were to being with. This makes the news much more entertaining, and therefore increases the number of people who will actually care. And as it’s important for citizens of a republic to be informed, I wanted to tell people where they could get their news in an enjoyable manner.

  2. snookju said

    Delivery isn’t to be taken for granted. I still haven’t come around to watching election coverage on Comedy Central, so I still live in the world CNN’s dry, matter-of-fact approach. As such, I hardly ever watch the news unless I know there is something on that is entertaining or informative in its own right. And they even manage to flub those stories up sometimes. A few weeks back, I saw a story about a woman who microwaved her baby. The tone they used in treating the story was so dry and PC that it was absolutely ridiculous to watch. We’re talkin’ about microwaved baby, for crying out loud!

  3. thesimmons said

    I am a child of the 24-hour news cycle. I live on my ever updating blogs, news tickers, and 30 second clips. While i like Keith to a point, I find his bias and attitude spoil the moment. That said, I think you review goes a good distance in clearing up the mess between me and this program. I can understand what you get out of it and can now…well almost now…claim that Keith should not be burned alive.

  4. “There’s something inherently trustworthy about a man who doesn’t feel the need to earn our trust….”

    I like how you use this. Your reviews are smart and witty. I had never heard of this program before, but I’ll be sure to check it out now.

  5. Excellent review! I have never heard of this show but I’ll have to catch it now. The introduction was nice because you knew that most people know who Jon Stewart is and used that quite well.

  6. donnadb said

    I respect Olbermann for the way he takes on the blowhards, even though I’m not a viewer of his show. As always, you write some of the best prose in the class, and always have a strategy for getting in and out of the review, which I appreciate. This is one of your toughest challenges, though, because even more than usual you are trying to get us to put on a fan’s rose-colored glasses, but unlike your other topics this is a divisive, problematic genre and show. Few people have neutral feelings about TV pundits with strong opinions, so it’s difficult to talk about the quality of the show over and above one’s simple agreement with the host. I’m not sure I’d call Countdown a news show (anymore than The Daily Show or The O’Reilly Factor is) — it’s a commentary show, a distinction that I think is important in TV news just as it is in the newspaper where there is a wall between news and editorial. And Olbermann is not a reporter by any stretch of the imagination — he is a skilled host and commentator, but reporters go out and gather facts, and Olbermann’s never claimed to do that.

  7. rawra said

    I’ve heard of this show, but I’ve never watched it. Perhaps you should have left out the Jon Stewart comparison in the beginning if this is a “real news show.” All it did was put the image of a comedy show like Stewart’s in my head.

    Otherwise, very nice review. Will have to check it out!

  8. I’ve actually never heard of this show, but I can appreciate the comparison to Jon Stewart. Commentary news shows are becoming a bit of an epidemic, similar to new blogs, etc. Delivering news with an intentional bias is dangerous, and I don’t think many shows quite understand how dangerous it could be.

    Good post!

  9. Sarah said

    Huh, I’ve never heard of this show, but I’m all for it. I like it when the news is put in terms I can relate to. Yes, some things truly need to be serious, but I really don’t get politics sometimes, and I like a little humor with my deception. It helps lessen the blow. Fun stuff- I’d love to see this first hand.

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