×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Olbermann

Well-traveled host's ESPN2 show is tailored to his talents. As for how long that lasts....

With:

Host: Keith Olbermann

While Fox Sports 1 has been mounting a national alternative — including a talkshow that should even make Regis Philbin blushESPN has been gradually adding to its arsenal, signing former Foxsports.com columnist Jason Whitlock, numbers guru Nate Silver and Keith Olbermann, whose nightly sports program, “Olbermann,” made its ESPN2 debut Monday. Olbermann is a notoriously high-maintenance employee, and as the New York Times noted in a profile where everyone is still all smiles, he’s put many stops between now and his last ESPN gig 16 years ago. Still, he does bring a smart, playful approach to a sports space that seems increasingly simple-minded and blustery. So until he gets angry and quits, this ought to be pretty good.

Admittedly, Olbermann’s style — honed during all those years delivering “special comments” on MSNBC — translated into a sports context can feel a little bit like using a rhetorical bazooka to kill a housefly. Including Whitlock as a guest, he opened the show with nearly 20 minutes devoted to New York Jets coach Rex Ryan, skewering the media — and specifically the New York Daily News’ beat reporter, Manish Mehta — for creating a faux controversy around the injury to quarterback Mark Sanchez.

Yet Olbermann wasn’t wrong when he called this a “time of media madness, where controversy has replaced reporting.” And that’s especially true in terms of sports coverage, which caters to the loudest voices in sportstalk radio and those columnists willing to engage in the verbal equivalent of professional wrestling for a few minutes on “Around the Horn.”

Of course, ESPN is a major player in fostering that environment, and the network is also having its journalistic credentials questioned, having backed out of a “Frontline” documentary about the NFL and concussions for reasons that remain suspicious, given the network’s multi-billion-dollar investment in the league. While it’s the kind of target Olbermann would have found difficult to resist in another place, at another time, that particular controversy went overlooked in his first show. No sense biting the hand that feeds you right away, presumably.

Instead, Olbermann amused himself with highlights, funny videos, a modified “Worst Persons of the World” segment featuring sports figures, and a lot of flashbacks to Olbermann’s early bad-mustache days at ESPN. There was a solid interview with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and the chat with Whitlock, which other than their exchange about race and sports — and Olbermann lauding New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for badmouthing the Daily News’ Mehta — was as close to politics as the host ventured.

Still, Olbermann seemed to find largely the right tone, mixing sports and comedy, taking advantage of his writing skills (Sanchez has a “bruised right shoulder joint — by Spike Lee,” he quipped) and positioning himself as a sports-inflected counterweight to latenight talk.

“Olbermann” premiered coming out of U.S. Open tennis coverage, and while the host already looks pretty comfortable already, the program has a week or so to find its footage before the ripest of targets — the NFL, college football, the baseball playoffs — kick in after Labor Day. Certainly, there’s room to tinker with the balance — fewer goofy highlights, say, and more on issues like performance-enhancing drugs, which would capitalize on Olbermann’s journalistic chops without deviating from the basic formula.

Olbermann closed with his signature tribute to Edward R. Murrow — “Good night, and good luck” — but given the modest rating demands on this secondary channel and how well the format suits him, he might not need much of the latter. As for just how many good nights the Olbermann/ESPN2 marriage has in it, with Olbermann, that’s always the several-million-dollar question.

Olbermann

(Series; ESPN2, Mon. Aug. 26, 11 p.m. ET)

Cast:

Host: Keith Olbermann

More TV

  • Outlander 412

    'Outlander' Recap: Brianna Confronts Her Rapist in 'Providence'

    SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “Providence,” the 12th episode of “Outlander” Season 4. There were two competing narratives on “Outlander” this week — one that was largely invented for the show but was a very clever way to keep a certain character involved, and another that was also changed [...]

  • Gillian AndersonX-Files press conference, Century City,

    Gillian Anderson to Play Margaret Thatcher in Season 4 of 'The Crown' (Report)

    “The Crown” has found its Iron Lady. Gillian Anderson is said to have signed on to play British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in the fourth season of the much-praised Netflix drama series. Anderson’s casting was first reported by the Sunday Times. A Netflix rep declined to comment on the report. More Reviews Album Review: Maggie [...]

  • FICG Names Estrella Araiza As New

    Estrella Araiza To Head Up Guadalajara Intl Film Festival

    The Guadalajara Intl. Film Festival (FICG) has announced that Estrella Araiza, until now the festival’s head of industry and markets and director of the Guadalajara IntL. Film Festival in Los Angeles, has been promoted to the position of general director of the prominent Mexican festival. She replaces Ivan Trujillo, appointed director of TV UNAM. More [...]

  • AGS2 Key Art, Image IDs: AGS2_081218_2727,

    Starz Releases 'American Gods' Season 2 Trailer (Watch)

    Starz has released a second season trailer for “American Gods,” which returns to the cabler Mar. 10, depicting the brewing war between Gods old and new in the series based on Neil Gaiman’s novel of the same name. “When people first came to America they brought us with them,” the trailer begins, flashing images of [...]

  • R. Kelly

    R. Kelly Accusers Detail Abuse, Reveal Evidence on 'Dateline'

    The continuing controversy surrounding R. Kelly, including allegations of sexual abuse by a number of women over three decades, was the focus of Friday’s episode of “Dateline.” Speaking to accusers Sparkle, Jerhonda Pace and parents Tim and Jonjelyn Savage, among others, NBC’s Andrea Canning heard more harrowing tales of abduction and sexual misconduct on the part [...]

  • Kenan Thompson

    NBC Orders Comedy Pilots 'Saving Kenan' and 'Like Magic'

    NBC has ordered comedies “Saving Kenan” and “Like Magic” to pilot. “Saving Kenan” is a single-camera comedy starring “Saturday Night Live” veteran Kenan Thompson as a “newly widowed dad determined to be everything for his kids while begrudgingly letting his persistent father-in-law become more involved in their lives.” More Reviews Album Review: Maggie Rogers' 'Heard [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content