The beginning of a call with Keith Olbermann and ESPN President John Skipper sounds more like a therapy session than discussion of a new TV show.
“Keith is a singular talent with enormous intelligence and an engaging personality, huge sports knowledge. … He has emerged as the perfect host for us,” Skipper told reporters Wednesday (July 17), shortly after Olbermann’s deal to host a late-night show on ESPN2 became official.
Skipper follows the praise up with this comment: “I am of course aware of Keith’s previous experience at ESPN. … I am aware of some of the sensitivities, the issues around relationships. I hope you have read his statement where he has addressed how he plans to deal with this.”
When Olbermann left ESPN’s “SportsCenter” in 1997, he did so with bridges burning behind him. (It’s a pattern that has repeated itself in subsequent stops in his career: After he was fired from Current TV in 2012, lawsuits were filed on both sides.) Olbermann has been affiliated with the company here and there since then, including co-hosting Dan Patrick‘s ESPN Radio show for a couple of years, but he hasn’t been on camera since his “SportsCenter” days.
“I’m very grateful for the opportunity and particularly grateful for the chance to not only work on … what I hope will be absolutely necessary viewing for all sports fans again, but also this chance to put a different ending on the story of my relationship with ESPN,” Olbermann says. “… We are indelibly intertwined, and I know we can’t go back and undo everything that happened 20 years ago … but I would like to do my best to correct as much of it as I can.”
As for the show itself, “Olbermann” will launch on Aug. 26 following ESPN2’s coverage of the U.S. Open tennis tournament. It will feature a mix of highlights, commentary, guests and other segments, all driven by the sports news of the day.
Both Olbermann and Skipper say that politics — Olbermann’s primary milieu for the past decade — isn’t off-limits for the show, shooting down earlier reports that Olbermann’s contract prohibits him from talking about politics. But the show will only delve into politics as it relates to sports.
“If the House is considering a bill to make PED use a capital offense, we’ll cover it,” Olbermann says. “… But we’re not going to talk politics.”
Skipper does note, however, that he has banned Olbermann from wearing the leather jacket he sported when he hosted “SportsNight” in the very early days of ESPN2. “Maybe I’ll bring it on as a prop,” Olbermann says.