Hours after the news became official that Keith Olbermann would host weeknight talkshow “Olbermann” on ESPN2 beginning Aug. 26, Olbermann and ESPN prexy John Skipper discussed the reunion with reporters. What follows is a live-blog highlighting their comments.
Skipper: “I am happy to welcome Keith Olbermann back to ESPN. Keith is a singular talent with enormous intelligence and engaging personality. … We deliver a big audience into 11 p.m. and would like to take advantage of that. This makes us better.”
“I am of course aware of Keith’s previous experience at ESPN but have had a chance to get to know Keith a little bit …
Olbermann: “It almost defies my ability to talk about myself to say something coherent and relevant about this, but I am very grateful for the opportunity. (It’s) a chance to put a little different ending on my relationship with ESPN.
“I appreciate the fresh start, and we’ll see how much success we can get in that way.
“This is not quite the Paris peace accords, but we’ve done a very good job. I’m the main beneficiary and hope to make the audience the second beneficiary.”
Skipper: “We don’t ultimately have to work through anything except my having discussions and being sensitive to some of the previous issues. …. It ultimately was my decision.
“Really more of a calculation and my getting some comfort with Keith and spending some time with Keith. It’s really more about what Keith’s going to do than what people at ESPN have in their experiences of their memories.
“This is going to be a sports show, and clearly a sports show. Politics and governance and elections are not going to be the subject of a show. There is no prohibition against speaking up when sports runs up against anything else in our culture. Trayvon Martin is an excellent example; we expect Keith to have some point of view there. It only has to be responsible.”
Olbermann: “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 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. … We’re not going to talk politics. I read something about there being a contract clause (related to it). I don’t know where that came from.
“Literally after we had been unable to reach something in the way of an extension in 1997 … something came up on a personal level where I found out that a viewer who had a son that was autistic and another son that was not, the boy that was afflicted with that awful, awful disease, and suddenly his brother was at bat hit a line-drive base hit and the boy said, ‘He hit the ball real hard.’ And soon the things he was able to talk about were catchphrases of mine. And after I was done weeping about this for an hour, I did talk to various members of the (ESPN) management structure whether my new schedule would permit me to just do say the Sunday night SportsCenter … for the sole purpose of keeping what was a valuable show to us. To be fair to the management structure of ESPN in 1997, they looked left, right and center for a way to do this.
“In point of fact, I’ve already come back. I came back (before) to work for the radio network for two or three years. If you expand to include ABC Radio, this is the sixth time I’ve come back.
“I could say to you there were moments this might not happen, but every time I’ve made a prediction like that I’ve been completely wrong.
“We’ve gone over this a lot to get into the bottom line from each side why we want to do it. … I had a heart-to-heart with Chris Berman last night at the All-Star Game, totally impromptu and couldn’t have been better. … The thing that made me (want to come back) was reading something as I said before about the past. … I don’t want (the negative story) to be the obituary.”
Skipper: “(Advertisers) are very excited about the show. We’ll be reaching out in the next two-four weeks.”
Olbermann: “Without taking the entire surprise out, I can assure you one point: Barring breaking sports news, the show will look and be formatted to look the same every night. We won’t have the same content, but all the elements that a good sports broadcast that will sum up the day and get (viewers) thinking and get the jump on the next day. …
“There will be commentary, there will be highlights, there will be guests, there will be celebrity sports fans. … Many of these things may be evocative of stuff that I’ve done in the past.
“I’ll let you guys characterize this any way that you’d like to – not that I could stop you.
“It is 20 years since I left ‘SportsCenter’ for the first time to help launch ESPN2. And I tell people I did this because I’m a great team player. After the five minutes of laughter … (I tell people) it didn’t work (there), but we gave it the best shot we could. I’m certainly proud of the effort.
“The (leather) coat is still hangning in my closet, 20 feet from where I’m sitting. I may bring it out as a prop.
“If you’re doing too much of something, people will stop watching. I’m not saying we tailor everything we do journalistically to fill that goal, but it’s a factor. … We will cover (breaking news) to a degree it deserves to be covered.”
Skipper: “We were having discussions before the announcement of Fox Sports 1, but it would be disingenuous of me to suggest … the timing (of this isn’t) designed to put us in a better position.”