On Friday evening, MSNBC "Countdown" host Keith Olbermann abruptly announced the prime-time broadcast would be his last, ending a four-year contract extension he signed in 2008 early.
"I was supposed to fill in for the late Jerry Nachman for exactly three days. Forty-nine days later there was a four-year contract for me to return to this nightly 8 PM time slot which I had fled four years earlier," Olbermann said Friday. "The program grew thanks entirely to your support with great rewards for me and I hope for you," he told viewers.
"There were many occasions particularly in the last two and a half years where all that surrounded the show — but never the show itself — was just too much for me. But your support and loyalty and if I may use the word insistence ultimately required that I keep going."
The network issued a brief statement Friday that it had ended its contract with the controversial host, offering no further explanation.
"MSNBC and Keith Olbermann have ended their contract. The last broadcast of 'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' will be this evening. MSNBC thanks Keith for his integral role in MSNBC's success and we wish him well in his future endeavors," the statement said.
NBC spokesman Jeremy Gaines insisted that the newly approved acquisition of NBC Universal by Comcast had nothing to do with Olbermann's exit.
Olbermann's program has boasted the network's highest ratings, but his controversial -- and often combative -- liberal opinions made him a target for critics. In the past, he and network executives have clashed, including a two-day suspension last fall after it was revealed he broke corporate ethics policies banning political donations.
Starting Monday, "The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell" is slated to fill Olbermann's vacated 8 p.m. ET/PT time slot, and "The Ed Show," hosted by progressive radio host Ed Schultz, will move to 10 p.m. Cenk Uygur, an occasional stand-in host and MSNBC contributor will fill in during the 6 p.m. hour.
Update: CNN's Anderson Cooper speculated Friday evening that Olbermann was "fired" from MSNBC:
Cooper is referring to the departure of MSNBC Chief Executive Officer Jeff Zucker who also departed from the network this week. "With Comcast, I leave you in good hands and have no doubt that you will continue to do great things," Zucker wrote.
Update: Politico reports that unnamed sources within MSNBC said Olbermann's departure was a "stealth move" with many "top executives and on-air talent kept out of the loop."
NBC executives have also reportedly announced that one term of Olbermann's settlement "will keep him from moving to another network for an extended period of time."