Keith Olbermann Returns To ESPN After 16-Year Hiatus; Will Host Weeknight Late Show
Keith Olbermann's return to ESPN was made official yesterday with the announcement of his nightly self-titled show on ESPN2, and the two-year deal will see Olbermann "appear on other ESPN platforms and programs, and likely write for ESPN.com at some point," according to Richard Deitsch of SI.com. Olbermann and ESPN execs did not give many details around "Olbermann," but the show will debut Aug. 26 at 11:00pm ET on ESPN2 and will "feature commentary, guests and celebrity sports fans, highlights and various running features" (SI.com, 7/17). On Long Island, Neil Best notes the "hope is live-event lead-ins such as the U.S. tennis Open that begins Aug. 26 will deliver audiences in the crowded late-night arena." Olbermann will "miss some nights while hosting TBS' studio show during the baseball playoffs" (NEWSDAY, 7/18).
TALKING POLITICS: Olbermann gained notoriety as a political pundit over the past decade, most prominently hosting MSNBC’s “Countdown” for eight years. ESPN President John Skipper on a conference call said while politics will not be a typical discussion topic on the new show, there could be the occasional need to broach the topic. Skipper: “There is no prohibition. If politics happens to intersect with sports … we would expect Keith to have some point of view there" (Josh Carpenter, Staff Writer). Olbermann "made it clear that this show is all about sports." Olbermann: "We are not going to talk politics." He denied reports that there is a "contract clause" restricting him from talking politics, saying, "I don't know where that came from" (CABLEFAX DAILY, 7/18). He added, “The key three or four words about this: It’s a sports show. The idea that I’d want to do anything that is not specifically sports-related … if I wanted to go back into politics, that’s what I would do. But if the House is considering a bill to make PED use a capital offense, we’ll cover it" (VARIETY.com, 7/17). Skipper: "This is going to be a sports show, and clearly a sports show. Politics and governance and elections will not be the subject of the show.” In N.Y., Richard Sandomir notes bringing the "mercurial" Olbermann back to ESPN "was not a run-of-the-mill personnel move" (N.Y. TIMES, 7/18). Olbermann said, "No political segments. No cultural segments are planned. They’re not restraining me. They don’t have to. I’m not intending to be political in the sense of what I’ve been doing in my previous few jobs" (AKRON BEACON JOURNAL, 7/18).
SALVO FIRED AGAINST FS1: The N.Y. TIMES' Sandomir notes the show is slated to debut "nine days after the start of Fox Sports 1." Skipper said, "I'd be disingenuous if I said this didn't help us" (N.Y. TIMES, 7/18). Blogger Ed Sherman wrote the move "really couldn’t have worked out better for ESPN." The net "needed to diffuse some of the hype being generated by the pending launch" of FS1 on Aug. 17. Also with some "hints that ratings are eroding in certain places, the network had to create a program that will get people talking" (SHERMANREPORT.com, 7/17). Skipper would not say if Olbermann will be featured on “SportsCenter” in the future, but added, “We expect to see Keith on other platforms, other shows, but right now we’re concentrating on this show and want to make it as good as possible” (Carpenter).
CHANCE TO RE-WRITE HISTORY: Olbermann was a popular “SportsCenter” anchor from ’92-97, but abruptly left and moved to a position at Fox Sports. He said the new program gives him a “chance to put a different ending on the story of my relationship with ESPN.” Olbermann: “I know that we can’t go back and undo everything that happened 20 years ago. I don’t want that to be in the obituary. I don’t want that to be the end of the story” (Carpenter). SI's Deitsch noted Olbermann was "contrite about his previous difficulties at ESPN and reinforced his hopes to make amends by conducting himself differently during this ESPN go-around." Meanwhile, Skipper said his advertising group is "excited" about Olbermann's show but did not name any specific sponsors tied to it. ESPN2 does "not rate highly with the programming currently airing" in the 11:00pm time slot. ESPN has "averaged 341,000 viewers for the time slot" in '13. Deitsch wrote the "bottom line" is that the move is a "low risk play that has a big upside given Olbermann's name-recognition to ESPN and non-ESPN viewers" (SI.com, 7/17).
WINNING THE NIGHT: In Akron, George Thomas writes, "Either the luckiest man in broadcasting, one of the most talented or both, Olbermann rejoins ESPN after many industry experts thought he’d nuked any bridges to his former place of employment after an acrimonious departure." The interest in returning to ESPN "came from Olbermann about a year ago" (AKRON BEACON JOURNAL, 7/18). USA TODAY's Reid Cherner writes ESPN "seems happy to have him" (USA TODAY, 7/18). CBS Sports Network's Doug Gottlieb: “I love that this era in TV has talented people getting new opportunities and I would also say that this is likely the last chance for Keith Olbermann to be fairly mainstream and not blow it. He is brilliant, though he has been troubled by senseless fights with his bosses and other media members. I'm guessing he will be witty, smart and snarky" (OKLAHOMAN, 7/18). But SPORTS ON EARTH's Jack Dickey writes, "It seems that no one involved in the talk-shows-for-smart-sports-fans arms race has stopped to ask one pretty meaningful question: Why bother?" Sports media has "more than enough punditry already." Sports, "unlike politics or economics or the Middle East, have very few stories with that kind of narrative heft AND room around them to have meaningful discussions" (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 7/18).