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Series / Countdown with Keith Olbermann

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"Bill O'Reilly, today's Worst Person in the World!"
Keith, practically Once per Episode

A program on MSNBC that ran from 2003-11, then on Current TV from 2011-12, hosted by Keith Olbermann. Introduced as Countdown: Iraq, this hour-long show evolved into an opinionated political program that saw itself as a left-wing foil to Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, et al.

True to its name, the series featured five news stories, counting down from #5 through #1. #5 was the night's lead story, invariably a major political story with fifteen minutes or more given to detail and commentary. Often two different guests would be interviewed with different angles on the story. The subsequent stories would decline in importance, with #4, #3, and #2 being stories not widely reported elsewhere in the news, and with #1 often being entertainment news or some other fluff piece.

Some of the recurring segments include:


  • "Oddball": Short segments of weird news, first followed by "Best Persons" (originally called "Top 3 Newsmakers", segment scrapped in 2009), then preceded by the Sanity Break (usually featuring adorable kittens, bunnies or other brain-meltingly cute creatures), and the Tweet of the Day (he gave in and joined). As the name of the segment was a pun on fellow MSNBC show Hardball, the name changed to "Time Marches On" when it moved to Current.
  • The night's "Worst Persons in the World", a listing of three people/groups who've done or said something that Olbermann found rather ugly or reprehensible. Briefly suspended a couple of times, once in response to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear" (brought back after a fan poll, with a new "Not Really" graphic) and once in the wake of the Tucson shootings (the show ended on MSNBC shortly afterwards, and Worst Persons was revived on Current, without the "Not Really" graphic). When a Guest Host fills in for Olbermann, there is a short political story instead.
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  • The show would occasionally end with a "Special Comment", a rather long diatribe reserved for when someone in (or seeking) a seat of power does or says something Olbermann considered egregiously bad. During the final weeks of the 2008 Presidential Campaign, this became a more regular segment called "Campaign Comment". 2010 introduced "Quick Comments", which were shorter and more frequent and which evolved into "Tea Time".
  • Friday shows sometimes had "Thurber Fridays", a reading of a James Thurber story (sometimes relevant to the week's news, sometimes not).

Between 2010 and 2012, Countdown fell victim to a combination of Screwed by the Network and Troubled Production. Olbermann was suspended by MSNBC for making political donations against network policy, but was brought back following intense blowback from his viewers. After relations with MSNBC deteriorated, Olbermann abruptly announced that his show would be going off the air in January 2011. He then relaunched Countdown on the independent Current TV network, but behind-the-scenes drama led to Olbermann's prolonged absence as host and, eventually, his firing in March 2012. Legal action happened, and was settled just before Current was bought by Al Jazeera to launch Al Jazeera America.

At the time, Olbermann stated that he would no longer operate as a political pundit, but this turned out to be premature: in 2016 he teamed up with GQ Magazine to create the web video series The Closer With Keith Olbermann, later rebranded The Resistance with Keith Olbermann, following a format largely derived from the "Special Comment" formula.

Not to be confused with Countdown, a long-running British Scrabble-esque Game Show on Channel 4 that largely concerns itself with bad puns and inoffensive anecdotes.

"Which of these tropes will you be talking about tomorrow?":

  • Arch-Enemy: Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck.
    • NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Olbermann, who Olbermann called on multiple times to resign.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: The list of "Muslim Countries Obama Continues To Refuse To Bomb (So Far)" in the parody of Obama Muslim conspiracy theories:
    Dearborn, Michigannote 
  • Actually Pretty Funny:
    • He reportedly enjoyed Jon Stewart's parody of him.
    • Also he was simultaneously amused and bemused by the Saturday Night Live parody of him done by Ben Affleck, and was reportedly actually sad that Affleck avoided interacting with him when invited to appear on Rachel Maddow's show. Apparently Affleck was afraid Olbermann would be upset, but he actually wanted to offer some friendly constructive criticism and advice to Affleck for any future parodies of Countdown.
    "I don't even own a cat."
  • Backhanded Apology: He did this in his statement on Twitter about his firing from Current TV:
    "I'd like to apologize to my viewers and my staff for the failure of Current TV."
  • Big Bad: To Keith, George W. Bush above all. Rupert Murdoch as well.
  • Big Good: To Keith, he may have at one point seen Barack Obama this way, but Obama turned out to be too centrist on economic matters for Keith. Better examples of people he would see as a Big Good would be Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
    • He railed at Obama too in Special Comments, mostly about his kowtowing to the right re his handling of health care and the budget crisis.
  • Camera Abuse: Throwing paper at it Once an Episode. He usually misses, but it smashes anyway. In the MSNBC era, this was often used as a running gag leading into a transition to Rachel Maddow's program.
  • Catchphrase: So many, between those specific to Countdown, carried over from Countdown to Olbermann, old SportsCenter catchphrases brought to Olbermann, and original to Olbermann. In order of appearance in the show;
    • "Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?"
    • And now the update on the President's fifty ongoing scandals...Buuuuusssshhhed!
    • In 2009, it became "And now, because they're not going away any time soon, the update on the previous President's fifty running scandals...Stilll mmmmmBusssshhhhed!" Now retired.
    • Let's play Oddball! (a takeoff on Chris Matthews' "Let's play Hardball", followed by a recording of Matthews' distinctive laugh)
    • (Phweeeee...) No, it's not your water coming to a boil; it's time for our nightly checkup on the something for nothing's Tea Time!
    • "That woman... is an IDIOT!" (in reference to Sarah Palin)
    • First, get out your pitchforks and torches, it's time for tonight's Worst Person in the World...
      • During the Current era: "First, because (something that usually relates to the tease for the final segment he just gave), here are Countdown's top three nominees for tonight's Worst Person in the World."
      • On the ESPN show: "First, the miscreants, losers, and riff-raff, the unwashed and the unloved...don't take it completely seriously, I don't mean it completely literally...we just call them...tonight's Worst Persons in the Sports World."
    • At the end of the segment: "(worst person) (some final pithy comment), tonight's... Worst... Person... In The Worrrrrrllllllllld!" (paper toss)
      • The ESPN show lost the Large Ham Punctuated! For! Emphasis! due to the longer "Worst Persons in the Sports World" name. On occasion, if he genuinely hated who the day's Worst Person was, after a Tranquil Fury condemnation, he would simply name him Worst Person in the [Sports] World again without any of the less serious flourishes.
    • First, the Sanity Break and the Tweet of the Day...
    • After an old ESPN clip of him: "Thanks, Keith, great report."
    • Finally tonight, as promised, a Special Comment...
    • How dare you, sir!
    • You're WRONG!
    • Sir!
    • Resign, Sir!
    • And that's Countdown for tonight, the xxxxth day since President Bush declared Mission Accomplished in Iraq. Good night and good luck. ("...the previous President declared..." since January 20, 2009)
    • And that's Countdown for tonight, the xxxxth day since Republicans took control of the House of Representatives. MR. BOEHNER, WHERE ARE THE JOBS?
    • Give yourself a round of applause for getting through another day of this crap.
    • I've done all the damage I can do here.
    • Good Night, and Good Luck. note 
    • Never get into a war of words with people who buy ink by the barrelnote 
    • Go forth and spread beauty and light. note 
    • Bye Felicia - usually after someone is sent off the field in the context of sports or does something stupid or Olbermann believes an issue to be settled
    • That's The Closer, I'm Keith Olbermann. Watch this space.
    • Resist! ...Peace.
    • Resist! Remove!! ...Peace.
  • Clip Show: A couple were done, mostly when his father was in the hospital, and at least one hour-long episode of his Special Comments. Also, the obligatory "Best of the Year" reels for the holidays.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Newsweek editor Richard Wolffe, who showed up just so Olbermann could set him up to snark on the GOP.
    • Keith himself, in many of the "Worst Person" segments and some of the lighter Special Comments, particularly the Campaign Comments. Certainly his "Thanks, Dick" and Rocket-powered Rollerskates lines qualified as snark, as was the reaction to Doug Feith's Pre-war consequences memo.
    • This attitude also leads to nicknames for the Fox News Channel and his right-wing rivals (see The Nicknamer below) and the occasional indulgence in a mocking/sarcastic Evil Laugh when the right wing accuses the left one of something particularly supervillain-ish.
  • Enemy Mine: Keith sprang to Billo's defense when it was rumored that Rupert Murdoch had muzzled him. "Solidarity, Brother Bill! Free yourself from your corporate shackles! SOLIDARITY!!"
    • Also, unlike Rachel Maddow, who likes the sport, he shares frequent enemy Glenn Beck's hatred of soccer.
      • Actually, Olbermann's attitude regarding soccer is a great big "meh".
    • When Keith was suspended in November 2010 for not clearing campaign contributionsnote  with the network, right-wing pundits Jonah Goldberg and William Kristol and recently fired CNN newsman Rick Sanchez, all of whom Olbermann has had on his Worst Persons list, actually defended Olbermann and attacked MSNBC for the policy.
  • Every Episode Ending: "I'm Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck."
    • X Days Since
    • During the Current version of the show, he also added "Congratulations for getting through another day of this crap." During the earlier days of the MSNBC version, it was "That's Countdown, thanks for being a part of it."
    • The ESPN show ends with "I've done all the damage I can do here".
  • Follow the Bouncing Ball: "Dear viewer, this is our new logo."
  • Godwin's Law: Is no stranger to comparing certain people he disagrees with to Nazis and Fascists, in fact he does use this quite a lot, once calling President Bush a 'Fascist' after he commuted Scooter Libby's sentence during a Special Comment, and he's done this to a lot of people he's criticized.
    You're a FASCIST! Get them to print you a t-shirt with FASCIST on it!
  • A Good Name for a Rock Band: "If there isn't a band called Crossing the Sex Line by next week, someone is asleep at the switch." — June 30, 2009, on a quote by South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford.
  • Guest Host: Several. Both he and Rachel Maddow started out this way before getting their own shows.
    • This inspired Keith to utter an Evil Laugh, as now (save for Chris Matthews' show Hardball) all of MSNBC primetime is occupied by him and his former guest hosts.
      "Soon, soon my plans will be complete! Mwahahahaha!"
    • Many people subbed on Olbermann while Keith was out sick (he had a case of shingles in 2014 that he later joked about on his show) or had other commitments, but two who subbed often were SportsCenter anchor Adnan Virk and Around the Horn regular Pablo S. Torre.
  • He Who Must Not Be Named: Keith. "It's like a Voldemort thing, it's gotta be":
    Bill O'Reilly: I have never mentioned the man's name in my life and will never mention it.
    • The Unpronounceable: The real reason Bill won't say Keith's name.
    • This came to its logical conclusion when Bill did a whole segment with Bernie Goldberg on Keith getting fired, without once using his name.
  • Homage: Keith used Edward R. Murrow's sign-off in homage; also, the theme song was a remix of Beethoven's 9th, 2nd movement, which was the theme of The Huntley-Brinkley Report (precursor to NBC Nightly News). He also read a story from James Thurber to end the week after his late father and Thurber's daughter asked him to.
    • The "Worst Person in the World" concept was lifted from an old Bob & Ray routine of the same name, originally aimed at a critic who had given their stage show a vicious review, along with George Carlin's joke about how, through a process of ranking, there has to be a worst doctor in the world, and, what's even more frightening, "someone has an appointment to see him tomorrow!"
  • I Always Wanted to Say That:
    • On one Oddball segment about the birth of a baby elephant, he says "I always wanted to do this" and then shows the footage of the elephant walking with its mother while playing Baby Elephant Walk.
    • At the end of his first official Thurber reading, he closes with, "That's Countdown... portions written by James Thurber. I always wanted to say that!" [big grin]
  • Informed Ability: Any clip on YouTube titled "Keith Olbermann DESTROYS [insert Fox News commentator here]!!!" is usually too short and petty to be all that devastating. If you want real destruction, you're looking for the Special Comments.
  • Insult to Rocks: When O'Reilly did a panel for Newsmax, claimed by him to be a de facto Ponzi scheme, Olbermann said that this was beneath even him; two days later, he named himself third-worst person in the world... for insulting Newsmax, following legal threats over his use of the actual phrase "pyramid scheme."
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Though generally appearing to be exasperated with the world around him, Keith doesn't do a great job of hiding the fact that he's mostly angry with the world for not being as good as he believes it can be, and obviously can't help but keep believing that someday, it'll get there. If nothing else, his Special Comment on Proposition 8 shows more clearly than anything else that, underneath the snark and the grumbles, Keith Olbermann is a hopeless romantic of the first order.
    Keith: ...this isn't about yelling, and this isn't about politics. This is about the human heart, and if that sounds corny, so be it.
    Keith. I do not want to yell. I feel like screaming but everybody is screaming... We have all been screaming because we do not want to face, we cannot face, what is at the heart of all this... because ultimately in screaming about health care reform pro or con, we are screaming about death.
  • Medal of Dishonor: "The Worst Person in the World" segment.
  • Mood Whiplash: Some of the segues from Oddball/Time Marches On back to news content before the commercial break can be pretty jarring.
  • The Nicknamer: For his enemies.
    • Bill O'Reilly: Billo, Bill Orally, Bill O RLY, Billo The Clown, Ted Baxter, The Big Giant Head, The Frank Burns of News, Phineas T. Bluster.
    • Sean Hannity: The Walrus, The Manatee (this one was actually coined by John Cleese and adopted by Keith).
    • Rush Limbaugh: Comedian Rush Limbaugh, Boss Limbaugh, Orly Taitz Limbaugh, Tokyo Rose Limbaugh.
    • Ann Coulter: Coultergeist, Pirate Annie.
    • Glenn Beck: Televangelist Glenn Beck, Harold Hill, Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes Beck, "Becky", "This Yutz".
    • Sarah Palin: Sister Sarah, The Half-Term Governor of Alaska, The Half Governor, The Human Oil Slick, Saranoia, "That woman is an idiot", The Quitter, Bendy-Straws.
      • "Sarah Palin, Today's Worst, and, by worst, I mean the gift that keeps on giving and I'd be lost without her, person in the world!"
    • John Boehner: John of Orange.
    • L. Brent Bozell III (head of the right-leaning Media Research Center, a frequent Olbermann critic): Humorist Brent Bozell, Redbeard the Pirate, Bozell the Clown.
    • The Republican Party: The Party of No, The GO"BP".
    • Fox News Channel: Fox Noise, Fixed News, Fixed Noise, the Fox Nothing Channel, Cluster Fox, Faux News, The Political Whorehouse That Is Fox News.
      • The Fox Business Channel, which started off badly and lost a lot of money very quickly: The Fox Going Out of Business Channel
    • "Michele I Know What You Did Last Summer Bachmann" (from the October 6, 2009 "Worst Persons," in response to some unusually violent statements the Minnesota Congresswoman had made in September and October 2009, which included the words "bludgeon" and "slit our wrists.")
    • Donald Trump is "a Thanksgiving Day parade balloon in a suit", "Mussolini in makeup", and "demonic messiah in Oompa Loompa's clothing" among many other things.
      • His right-wing critics often refer to Keith himself as Bathtub Boy (circa John Gibson) and Keith Overbite (circa Mark Levin).
      • According to MSNBC's John Gibson, Olbermann did not want to cover the Monica Lewinsky scandal, saying it was not news. Gibson had to do the show for him, while Keith stayed home and took a bath.
      • Olbermann began referring to Rupert Murdoch as Palpatine. Promptly apologized when somebody using the name @EmperorPalpatine tweeted a claim to be offended by the comparison. He continues to "mistakenly" mix the two up, then apologize to the Emperor.
  • Ominous Pipe Organ: Complete with Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor, for "Worst Person in the World". Dropped when Olbermann felt the day's Worst was really egregious.
    • Sometimes substituted with other music that he considers thematically appropriate to whatever offense the "winner" committed. This is a recent trend for "Worst Persons" that Olbermann considers to have done something genuinely bad, but not egregious enough to forgo comedy altogether. For example, when Rupert Murdoch is the day's Worst Person (not an uncommon occurrence), he plays the Imperial March.
  • Parenthetical Swearing: Keith can make the word 'sir' sound unprintable.
  • Pet the Dog: Despite his despise of Republicans, he seems sometimes to have a relative soft spot for his ex, Laura Ingraham, despite her being O'Reilly's replacement host. He once compared her favorably to Glenn Beck and Brian Kilmeade on a "worst persons" segment they shared together saying, among other things, she wasn't an idiot. They still attack each other, but he sometimes doesn't seem to despise her as much as most of most of his political opposites, and he also condemned Ed Schultz on Twitter for calling her a "right-wing talk slut". Note that this did not once stop him from saying she "hated the troops".
  • Real Men Wear Pink: Keith sometimes had a bright pink jacket for his ESPN show. In his tribute to baseball card designer Sy Berger he twittered that he wore it because it was "bubble gum pink", like the gum traditionally included in packs of baseball cards.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: "The Special Comment," for those offenses so extreme that "The Worst Person in the World" title isn't enough.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: While at MSNBC, he was the Red Oni to Rachel Maddow's Blue Oni.
  • The Rival: O'Reilly, Beck, Limbaugh, Murdoch, Bush, Cheney, Palin, Bachmann, Cain, Perry, Gingrich, Levin, Gibson, and Coulter are the biggest. Sometimes it seems reciprocated, sometimes not; O'Reilly acts aloof and tries not to give him the time of day, Beck, Levin, Gibson, and Coulter make fun of him frequently, and the others are somewhere in the middle on that.
  • Scandalgate: Every story in the (now retired) "Bushed" and "Still Bushed" segments and several others outside it, often to the point of (intentional) ridiculousness.
  • Self-Deprecation: When Bill O'Reilly circulated a petition to have him fired, Olbermann promptly signed the petition himself on-air, and got the hosts of all the other MSNBC shows to do the same.
    • He's also named himself the Bronze in "Worst Person in the World" a couple of times after making a particularly bad on-air error.
      • Having a Worst Person in the World every single episode seems to lampshade Olbermann's Large Ham tendencies, and on one occasion (after the Jon Stewart lampoon mentioned under Take That!), he placed himself on that list, and has done so a few other times as well.
    • In the aftermath of his November 2010 suspension, Keith was visibly sheepish during his return to the show, and started the first episode after his return with a remark to the effect of, "I'd have expected viewers' vocal support and cheering to be directed to other high profile figures, like Chilean miners!", in effect claiming he didn't deserve to be cheered on so loudly (it also was only a week, if that long, after the successful rescue of the Chilean copper miners who had been trapped underground for 68 days).
  • Shout-Out:
  • Smarmy Host: Olbermann's golf announcer Bob Slurm, smooth-talking, super-quiet, and smarmy as hell.
  • Spoofed with Their Own Words: "The Worst Persons in the World" segment often featured this.
  • Take That!: The purpose of the "Worst Persons in the World" segment, which went temporarily defunct after The Daily Show with Jon Stewart's rally made him realize the segment had become a platform for anger rather than satire as originally intended. Also the recipient of a pretty great one from Ben Affleck on an episode of Saturday Night Live. And about as good a one from Jon Stewart.
    • Keith did not like his time at Current and took a few mean-spirited shots at them on his ESPN show.
  • Talk Like a Pirate: Whenever he quotes Rupert Murdoch. And when James Murdoch got his first Worst in 2010, he got the voice too.
  • 10-Minute Retirement: His indefinite suspension for making political donations without asking permission ended up lasting a total of two days.
    • He was also suspended two days from Olbermann for negative tweets about Penn State.
    • In true Olbermann fashion he cracked jokes about having been suspended when writing an "open letter to Tom Brady" who faced suspension for football inflation antics.
  • Torches and Pitchforks: He would introduce "Worst Persons" with "Get out your pitchforks and torches", and the title of his recent book, a collection of special comments, worst persons, etc., is Pitchforks and Torches. Funnily enough, many of the people named in this segment are being criticized because he thinks they're using violent imagery in invective, although he briefly retired the segment after Jon Stewart effectively called him out on it. note 
  • Weirdness Magnet: A much higher than average number of Oddball segments come from Florida or India. See also Widget Series below.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Delivered one of these to Glenn Beck after Beck did a long spiel about the socialistic motifs concealed in the murals and ornamentation of Rockefeller Center. Beck's entire bit had been about how the murals contained hidden communist and progressivist messages which he and he alone had been the first to recognise, adding that his own sound man had worked in Rockefeller Center for 29 years and had never noticed it. Olbermann pointed out that since the propaganda was so hidden that nobody had even noticed it, Beck was only serving it by drawing it to people's attention.
  • Who Writes This Crap?!: Several times, but the August 2, 2010 Oddball segment had Keith catching a factual error in a story about a giant sandwich, causing him to mutter under his breath "That's not Latin America, who wrote this?"
  • Widget Series: Olbermann's "weird news" segments include something odd happening in Japan on a relatively frequent basis.
  • You Called Me "X"; It Must Be Serious: A rare example of doing this to a rival. During Worst Persons, Olbermann routinely uses any number of nicknames (mainly Billo) to refer to O'Reilly. When he outright says O'Reilly's name, you know Bill crossed a line.