A day after the first rehearsal for his new ESPN2 latenight program “Olbermann,” Keith Olbermann reiterated that lessons learned from his tumultuous past would help keep him ruddered on his new venture.
Speaking at ESPN’s session at the Television Critics Assn. press tour, Olbermann said that he was grateful to be back at the sports TV giant, which he compared favorably to his most previous employer, Current TV (whom he eventually sued before reaching a settlement).
“There is the blunt reality, whatever I thought of ESPN when I worked there, I had a lot of experience outside the corporation,” Olbermann said. “I thought I had a pretty good perspective on people not agreeing with what I was talking about. I had no idea.
“I think it’s important to acknowledge that I was there (at ESPN) before. We will unleash some things from a time capsule each night, mostly because I looked so God-awful. … But frankly, I don’t think the audience is that interested in me coming on and saying, ‘Good evening, I’m sorry.’ If the first show references it, it will probably be because a guest brings it up.”
Olbermann reiterated that politics are not off the table as far as they relate to sports, but they were not a central part of the show.
“I’m not intending to talk about politics, certainly not in the partisan sense … for the simple reason that it’s a sports show,” Olbermann said. “It is not our intent to say, ‘The Chicago White Sox moved to Vancouver, Canada today, but first, let’s talk about what Speaker Boehner said.’ ”
“There’s nothing preventing me from doing it other than common sense. … It’s been wonderful not talking politics.”
Said ESPN original programming veep Jamie Horowitz about “Olbermann”: “It’s not dissimilar from other shows on ESPN. When sports intersects with politics or culture or music, we expect our experts to weigh in on the stories.”
Almost like a test, Olbermann was asked for his take on scandalized New York City mayoral Anthony Weiner, in the wake of Tuesday’s “Carlos Danger” revelations, and after pausing before volunteering an answer, said, “I think he stole a great hotel sign-in name that I would have liked to have used.”
He added that the new show would have a “Worst Person in the Sports World” feature, calling back his MSNBC days, calling the bit a popular one and clarifying that it would be non-political.
The bottom line, according to Horowitz, was there was great potential for the show.
“Anyone who has seen Keith’s work before knows he has the right combination of personality and authority to drive a successful show on ESPN,” Horowitz added.
Olbermann will be away from ESPN for three weeks in October to host the postseason baseball studio for TBS. Horowitz said that how ESPN2 and “Olbermann” handle that departure is still being worked out.
At TCA, ESPN also revealed its fall slate of “30 for 30” documentaries, unfolding weekly beginning Oct. 1 with “Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau.” Others include:
• “Free Spirits,” about the unusual fate of American Basketball Assn. franchise the Spirits of St. Louis
• “No Mas,” revisiting the Sugar Ray Leonard-Roberto Duran fights
• “Big Shot,” a Kevin Connolly-directed doc about an ownership scandal with hockey’s New York Islanders
• “This Is What They Want,” focusing on the late-career comeback of tennis great Jimmy Connors
• “Tonya and Nancy,” looking back at the infamous duel between Olympic figure skaters Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan.
Each project will be available on iTunes and Amazon Instant Video the day after its premiere.
Olbermann joked that one day, there would be a “30 for 30” documentary on the history of his departures from his various jobs.