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Crystal Persuasion: Keith Olbermann, on Letterman, Likens Self to Expensive Chandelier

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It made perfect sense for Keith Olbermann to go on Late Show with David Letterman to post-mortem his departure from Current TV. Two talented broadcasters, two very strong-willed guys, two guys who have a history of, shall we say, friction with their employers. So whatever Letterman thinks of how things went down with Olbermann and his latest ex-network, it was a place where the anchor could at least get a sympathetic hearing.

Give Olbermann credit for this: he can still turn a colorful metaphor. “I screwed up,” he said. “I screwed up really big on this.” The screw-up, he said, was not thinking things through–namely that the fledgling network might not have the wherewithal to put on the kind of production and provide the kind of platform he wanted.

And Olbermann did this by analogizing himself to… the world’s most expensive chandelier.

“If you buy a $10 million chandelier,” he said, “you should have a house to put it in. Just walking around with a $10 million chandelier isn’t going to do anybody a lot of good, and it’s not going to do any good to the chandelier. And then it turned out we didn’t have a lot to put the house in to put the chandelier in, and we didn’t have a building permit.”

I’m going to try to unpack that a bit. it seems like Olbermann is citing the problem that a lot of folks were wondering when he took the job: If little Current spends $50 million on him, how is it going to have enough money left for anything else? I have no way of knowing if that’s the entire story here, of course–it was the story he wanted to tell–but it was a pretty evident part given the production problems that Olbermann publicly complained about on the show.

Comparing one’s self to a highly delicate piece of crystalline art is perhaps not the most sympathy-generating turn of phrase. (Listen to Letterman’s deadpan: “You’re… you’re the chandelier.”) But as with Matthew Weiner and his salary negotiations with AMC last year, I don’t believe–whatever Olbermann’s other faults–that any worker has the responsibility to prevent his employer from overpaying him.

Still, Olbermann set himself up with that analogy, because where it naturally leads is: if you have millions of dollars to spend, spend it on building a great house, because when it comes down to it, the house is way, way more important than any chandelier. I’m not sure if Olbermann would want to extend the metaphor that far.

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