After 16 years away from the Mothership’s watchful eye and three firings later, Keith Olbermann is returning to ESPN. Variety is reporting that ESPN will announce a late-night talk show, hosted by the former employee, that will air on ESPN2. While a premiere date has not yet been set, the announcement of Olbermann’s new show could come as early as today.
Olbermann has been off-the-air for 15 months since he was fired from Current TV, yet another media corporation he left on bad terms.
This move by ESPN could be seen as a counter-attack to Fox Sports 1’s massive promotional campaign, according to the New York Daily News, who first reported on the rumors of Olbermann’s return.
The New York Times, who also reported the story, said, “ESPN executives said Olbermann will help it face the challenge presented by the launch of Fox Sports 1, a rival all-sports network that just announced plans for a potentially similar series to star Regis Philbin.”
Though, a late-night talk show starring someone who hasn’t been seen talking about sports in years is hardly a formula for a ratings juggernaut.
Olbermann was one half of “the Big Show” SportsCenter duo alongside Dan Patrick in the 1990s. The two helped make ESPN what it is today and ushered in a new era of sports media. But that was a long time ago. Olbermann left ESPN under acerbic terms, went to MSNBC and became a left-wing pundit. Not quite the middle-of-the-country voice that ESPN would normally want behind a microphone. But maybe, if the Mothership puts Olbermann on ESPN2, lets him loose to say whatever he wants about anything, barring politics, according to the New York Times, and makes him the “Skip Bayless of Late Night” (as horrible as that sounds), his show might just get a few viewers.
He doesn’t have to be well-respected to be well-watched. Ask Skip Bayless.
The timing of this decision is interesting, to say the least. Olbermann recently signed on with Turner Sports to anchor their MLB Playoffs studio panel during this fall’s MLB Playoffs. So, even if this talk show is announced today, don’t expect it to be on-air until at least November, after the World Series is over.
In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter in June, ESPN President John Skipper was asked about the possibility of Olbermann ever returning to the network’s airwaves after he “didn’t just burn bridges at ESPN, he “napalmed” them”:
“I wasn’t here when Keith was here, but he is very talented. So I had dinner with Keith — it was delightful and fun. And I would not have had dinner with him if we didn’t sit around and think about whether there was a reason to bring Keith back. I haven’t met with him again, but we don’t have a policy here that you can never come back,” Skipper told the Hollywood Reporter.
Olbermann is a sports savant with unquestioned broadcasting skills and a penchant for getting attention. If ESPN can craft the right type of show around him, they could just get an old star back for good.
Until he gets fired, of course.
[UPDATE:] Olbermann’s show has been officially announced. “Olbermann” will air beginning Aug. 26 at 11 p.m. ET. It will be filmed at ESPN/ABC Times Square studio, as opposed to their Bristol, Conn. headquarters.