Remember when Keith Olbermann and Glenn Beck were two of the loudest, most influential voices in the cable news space? Now, you have to strain just to hear them.
Current TV dropped Olbermann after what could only be described as a period in which the host exhibited thinly veiled contempt for the start-up network, especially when it experienced one of its many on-air glitches.
In response to Current's statement, Olbermann took to Twitter, promising a lawsuit against the network, and accusing them of dastardly behavior in a flurry of 140-character bursts. Here's a link to his full statement.
Beck, meanwhile, recently chatted up his solo efforts in a Wall Street Journal interview, but when was the last time you heard anybody quote him, no matter how outrageous he tries to be? Like Olbermann, he sacrificed a huge portion of his audience by leaving his former home -- Beck, Fox News; Olbermann, MSNBC -- and striking out on his own.
Was this predictable? I certainly thought so in a column nearly a year ago, where I questioned how well such talent would fare as stand-alone "brands," without the umbrellas of a solid, corporately backed parent network behind them.
Or as I quoted liberal pundit Bill Press saying at the time, Beck "needs Fox more than Fox needs him."
The question now -- more immediately for Olbermann, obviously -- is what's next. Although a lot of people hate his politics, he's certainly talented as a broadcaster and enjoys a small but loyal following. And if he made a mistake parting with MSNBC, that channel hasn't exactly adorned itself in honor since he left, in a lineup highlighted by Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O'Donnell, but lowlighted by Ed Schultz and Al Sharpton.
Olbermann will have options, certainly, but he's burned so many bridges anybody buying in is going to be plagued by "Do you know what you're getting yourself into?" questions.
All of which brings me back to what I wrote a year ago:
It's hard to imagine more unlikely bedfellows than Beck and Olbermann, but they're plunging into the same uncharted waters -- each betting his persona is bigger than a single program, and doesn't necessarily require a media conglomerate's promotional clout to connect with viewers and listeners.
Although Beck's on-air rants and evangelistic fervor have invited comparisons to "Network's" raging prophet Howard Beale, the question, strictly from a business perspective, is whether being mad as hell is the same thing as being crazy.
Then again, at this point in cable news, dealing with "crazy" is apparently just a standard cost of doing business.