Recent ratings data may suggest otherwise, but for much of MSNBC's ascent, the network rode on Olbermann's back to big ratings, notoriety, and, yes, controversy.
Olbermann was obviously outspoken and seemingly always having run-ins with management. This wasn't new. Fox News, ESPN, and CNN reportedly had issues with him as well in his previous assignments.
But you get what you pay for. And Olbermann gave MSNBC a singularly distinct, unapologetic, strong voice for the liberal side of politics. Passion is key among cable news network loyalists on either side of the aisle.
"They have GOT to be kidding! Olbermann IS MSNBC!!!!," wrote one blogger. "This will NOT stand! Keith has MILLIONS of loyal viewers who would not miss a minute of his program. MSNBC is asking for TROUBLE! There will be PROTESTS! There will be a BOYCOTT! This is OUTRAGEOUS!!!!"
It is the kind of TV engagement advertisers want. No doubt, fans of O'Reilly, Beck, and Hannity have similar connections.
But NBC News has something Fox News -- right or wrong -- doesn't have. That's a long straight-ahead, journalism legacy. To many older established NBC reporters/anchors, Olbermann's spiel never jived well with the established network's longtime ways. They continue to see MSNBC as an uneasy success.
If you advertise on MSNBC, you're probably wondering what's next. Olbermann's exit would seem to mean the loss of some existing rating points. And that can't help -- especially as new owner Comcast walks in the door.
The good news is that other MSNBC "personalities" are putting up Olbermann-type numbers. The bad? His over-the-top commentaries, which generated big headlines and PR buzz, will be hard to replace.