Former sports broadcaster Keith Olbermann is once again out of a non-sports broadcasting television job.
His political news program “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” which he had hosted for nearly eight years at MSNBC, has been canceled by Current TV after just nine months, and fifteen months after Olbermann joined the network. According to The New York Times’ Brian Stelter, who broke the story, Current severed ties with Olbermann after citing that he has violated the channel’s “values” as “an authentic progressive outlet.” Olbermann’s program content on “Countdown’ reflected his Democratic political leaning, which conformed with the demographic of Current, and MSNBC before it. (Both networks’ programming is mostly of a progressive political persuasion.)
There is a saying: When one door closes, another one opens. Perhaps there’s a chance that Keith Olbermann could return to sports broadcasting – provided there are any takers.
Such a move would bring Olbermann’s career full circle. In the late 1970’s, while he was concentrating on academics at Hackley School and Cornell University, he had dabbled in those schools’ radio stations. He would get his first round of face time when he joined the upstart CNN in 1981, where he would anchor sports updates. For the remainder of the 1980’s, Olbermann would hold sports anchor jobs in radio and television, in top markets such as New York, Los Angeles and Boston.
It was at ESPN where his star flourished in the mid-1990’s. His pairing with Dan Patrick was said to be the most popular “SportsCenter” anchor era of all time. That would come to an abrupt end in 1997, when former colleague Craig Kilborn, invited Olbermann to appear on his new Comedy Central program, “The Daily Show.” At the end of the segment, Kilborn did a “Five Questions” bit with Olbermann. One of the questions was: “What is the most God forsaken place on the East Coast?” Olbermann’s answer: “Bristol, Connecticut.” That counted as a correct answer, at least on the show. But not in the Worldwide Leader’s eyes. And it didn’t help that Olbermann’s appearance on “The Daily Show” was not authorized by ESPN. Olbermann would eventually leave ESPN later that year. (Kilborn would voluntarily leave “The Daily Show” in 1999; the show has since been hosted by Jon Stewart.)
In the dozen years that followed, Olbermann would work odd sports jobs at other outlets: his three-year relationship with FOX included a weekly program on FOX Sports Net. His tenure would come to an end in 2001 when he reported on FOX about rumors that the Dodgers were being sold by owner Rupert Murdoch, which also owns News Corporation, which owns FOX. (Murdoch would sell the team to Frank McCourt, who sold it to a group including Magic Johnson just this week.) He provided daily sports commentary segments for ABC Radio. And he spent three years as a co-host of NBC’s “Football Night In America” from 2007 to 2010.
As Olbermann donned his sports broadcasting hat, he would also work, at times simultaneously, in news journalism. When he left ESPN in 1997, he started a nightly program on MSNBC that was originally titled, “The Big Show with Keith Olbermann.” The next year, at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal involving former President Bill Clinton, his program has focused on “Intern-Gate”, much to his chagrin. It was at that point that he left MSNBC for FOX.
Olbermann would return to MSNBC in 2003 to host “Countdown.” As he verbally sparred with FOX News Channel host Bill O’Reilly – whose “O’Reilly Factor” aired opposite “Countdown” – and President George W. Bush, during and after his second term, he would become one of cable news’ most polarizing personalities. Despite that, NBC signed him as a co-host for their “Sunday Night Football” extended pregame show, which recapped the NFL games played earlier that day. When NBC brought his old pal Dan Patrick on board, it was just like old times, if only for once a week: The duo would spark “SportsCenter” nostalgia in the hopes that it would help the ratings of “Football Night,” which were never stellar, especially when airing opposite late games that went into overtime, or, simply, prime time. (You will recall “Football Night” also hired one Tiki Barber.) Olbermann would be removed from the program in 2010, at the behest of his bosses at MSNBC, over concerns that the extracurricular NBC program was a distraction; clearly, “Countdown” had been Olbermann’s bread and butter.
Later that fall, it would be revealed that Olbermann had sent $2,400 in campaign contributions to three Democratic candidates for Congress in the 2010 elections, including Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who, unfortunately, resigned her seat over a year after she was tragically shot in the head. When MSNBC learned of this, they had suspended Olbermann indefinitely. Like his appearance on Comedy Central years ago, his political contributions were not authorized by management of the network signing his checks. Olbermann and MSNBC would part ways in January of 2011.
Olbermann was hired by Current TV in February 2011 with the title of “chief news officer”. The channel, co-owned by Al Gore, who served as Vice President under Clinton in the 1990’s, would relaunch “Countdown” in June 2011. Despite a “rocky relationship” with network brass, the former veep would give Olbermann a vote of confidence. (Sports fans: You already know how valuable votes of confidence are in sports.) Apparently, the situation between the anchor and the network came to a head, as Current abruptly severed ties with Olbermann this afternoon.
Already, many are wondering what the next stop for Olbermann will be – if at all.
Based on this recap of his career in news and sports broadcasting, it may give the impression that he’s not a good employee when the cameras are off. Certainly, Olbermann has been notorious for burning bridges with his former employers. So you can already cross a few media entities off the list: ESPN/ABC (where he didn’t just burn bridges, “he napalmed them“); FOX (especially if it’s still under Murdoch’s watch; Murdoch himself was once quoted as calling Olbermann “crazy”); and his most recent cable news employers, Current and MSNBC.
The very post that you’re reading may be a case of deja vu. When Olbermann left MSNBC last year, there were many speculating whether it would be possible for Olbermann to return to sports broadcasting. Of course, back then, there were two fewer cable sports networks at the time. CBS Sports Network launched in April 2011, with NBC Sports Network following on the day after New Year’s Day 2012. And incidentally, word on the street this week is that FOX is planning to launch a new general cable sports network. Obviously, FOX’s new network is not an option, and it isn’t even on the air yet. But it certainly is not out of the question for Olbermann to resurface at CBS Sports Network, or perhaps, even NBC Sports Network: remember that in 2011, Olbermann was discharged by MSNBC, not NBC or NBC Sports; it was MSNBC that ended his association with NBC Sports. And I don’t recall Olbermann trashing NBC in the wake of his departure from MSNBC, so there is a possibility he could appear on NBC Sports Network – but it’s not a lock.
The lock in this instance would be CBS Sports Network. With all of the many stops on Olbermann’s storied resume, his only employment for CBS was at the network’s owned-and-operated Los Angeles station, KCBS, in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s. Also, he has a good friendship with CBS late night host David Letterman. That in and of itself would be a huge endorsement for Olbermann’s future at CBS, if not CBS Sports Network. CBSSN could benefit from a huge name; they’re already going all in with Jim Rome, the former ESPN program host whose new show on CBSSN launches next week. Olbermann might bring a slightly higher demographic to CBSSN than Rome, but he brings experience and a wealth of knowledge to the table. Olbermann could be best suited for a baseball-themed show. He’s maintained a blog (endorsed by Major League Baseball) going back to the days when he balanced football on NBC and politics on MSNBC. In fact, he just posted a new blog entry previewing the season ahead for the American League East just hours before his departure from Current TV was made public.
Which leads to another possibility of a future television employer, and perhaps a more likely landing spot: the three-year-old MLB Network. They, too, could use Olbermann’s vast knowledge and star power. A nightly highlight show in the vein of “SportsCenter” would be ideal. In case you missed it, the title of his MLB-sanctioned blog is “Baseball Nerd.” He’s even authored baseball-themed stories on “Countdown.” An Olbermann/MLB Network marriage would benefit both sides. And it wouldn’t be Olbermann’s first appearance on MLB Network: He had appeared on the January 12 edition of “Clubhouse Confidential“. And given his political penchant, it didn’t take long before posters on a thread promoting the appearance on MLB Network’s Facebook page started mentioning the likes of Ron Paul and Rush Limbaugh.
Of course, of concern to any future employer, such as CBS or MLB Network, is Olbermann’s history of “burning bridges” and excess baggage, but most importantly, his political patronizing over the last decade. There are thousands of videos on YouTube of Olbermann’s old MSNBC shows, specifically his popular “Special Comment” segments, in which shades of anger are regularly exhibited, that could turn a network off, depending on what clip they were looking at. But it’s not his fault. When he chose to delve into a political news niche, that was a decision that he believed in, and he gained a loyal following from his days at MSNBC. Because Keith Olbermann may be known in recent years as a bridge burner, and an anger spewer on television, it should not ensconce the days of sports broadcasting that put Keith Olbermann on the map.
While mollifying his political pep may be a requirement if hired by a sports outlet, such as CBS Sports Network, it’s possible Keith Olbermann may find it in his heart to do so.
This is obviously contingent on whether or not he wants to return to sports broadcasting in the first place.
But there could be a couple of opportunities knocking in the form of CBS and MLB Network – and I’m sure Keith’s got a few more innings left in him.
UPDATE: Since this blog was first posted, there’s been new developments: As Olbermann vowed to take legal action against Current over breach of contract, Current claims Olbermann himself was in breach of contract by missing “19 out of 41 working days” over the first two months of 2012 alone (did we mention his appearance on MLB Network was in January?); apparently, network management was incensed when Olbermann asked for another vacation day in March and, despite not being an approved vacation day, he took it anyway.
Incidentally, I wonder if Olbermann had asked Current about taking a vacation day for this upcoming Thursday, April 5 – that’s when he will once again be reunited with Dan Patrick for a live seminar at New York’s Paley Center titled “Twentieth Anniversary Of The Big Show: Keith Olbermann And Dan Patrick Together Again.” It will be moderated by Jim Miller, co-author of the book “Those Guys Have All The Fun: Inside The World Of ESPN” – and already, his Twitter followers are taking bets on whether or not he’ll show up. Stay tuned.