NEW YORK >> Keith Olbermann has returned to the air promising "a newscast of contextualization."
Five months after his abrupt departure from MSNBC, the outspokenly liberal host premiered on the Current TV network Monday night awash in media attention to his arrival at a new home.
His new nightly show, like the old one, is called "Countdown," and it retains the signature musical riff from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
It also features the left-leaning point of view and attitude that made Olbermann the most popular host on MSNBC, attracting a nightly audience averaging more than a million viewers.
Oddly missing from the first Current show, for better or worse: the formatted reverse ranking of topics that gave "Countdown" its name.
"As I was saying," Olbermann said at the top of the hour in what was surely an homage to master late-night host Jack Paar, as if to resume his own message in mid-thought after his five-month interruption.
"The nation is losing its independence through the malfeasance of one political party and the timidity of another," he declared in his first Special Comment, and, meaning ordinary citizens, he added, "Even though you and I should not have to be the last line of defense, apparently we are, so we damn well better start being it."
Initially, at least, Olbermann likely will draw far fewer viewers on Current, a six-year-old network founded by former Vice President Al Gore and businessman Joel Hyatt, a former Democratic National Committee finance chairman. Current is available in 60 million homes, roughly one-third fewer than MSNBC, and until now its audience has been minuscule.
But Olbermann is meant to be the new face of Current, bringing new viewers to the network overall as they seek out his show.
Viewers who reconnected with Olbermann on Monday heard him bash U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh and Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain, of Arizona, among other familiar targets.
Olbermann welcomed his first guest, documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, with whom he joined in criticizing President Barack Obama for opting to reject for legal reasons the word "hostilities" to describe U.S. involvement in Libya’s civil war.
He zinged members of Congress, quipping they spend "too much time there for it just to be a hobby, but they’re not taking it seriously enough for it to be a full-time job."
During the hour, segments included "Inside the Republican Cult" and "Worst Persons."
And, as if to demonstrate he is in charge at Current in a way his old bosses at MSNBC wouldn’t let him be, he let "Countdown" run long, four minutes past the hour.
Then he signed off with his trademark toss of a wadded-up sheet of his script at the camera. But before he did, he told his viewers, "Thank you helping us preserve freedom of news."