It’s the 1990’s all over again.
Last year, Ricki Lake revived her popular daytime talk show. Later this year, Arsenio Hall is bringing back his “dawg pound” for his second foray into late-night TV.
And now there’s apparently a chance that ESPN could bring back Keith Olbermann, who enjoyed success as one of the top personalities on “SportsCenter” for six years in the 90’s.
Wait – the same Keith Olbermann that didn’t just burn his bridge with ESPN, he “napalmed” it? That Keith Olbermann?
That’s according to an account in The New York Times from Jim Miller, the ESPN historian who co-authored “Those Guys Have All The Fun.” Miller wrote of a dinner at a New York restaurant that Olbermann had with ESPN president John Skipper, a fixture with Disney long before their acquisition of ABC and ESPN in 1995: as Olbermann co-anchored “SportsCenter” with Dan Patrick from 1992 to 1997, Skipper toiled in Disney’s magazine department; it was right around the time Olbermann left for NBC News that Skipper started “ESPN The Magazine”; he inched further up the management ranks in the 2000’s and is currently in his second year as President of the Worldwide Leader, as well as Disney Media Networks co-chairman.
As the promotions for Skipper kept coming, Olbermann kept going: he abruptly left NBC News and MSNBC to join Fox Sports, which kicked him to the curb after four years; then returned to NBC to anchor “Countdown” through two elections, and left on the heels of the discovery of political contributions on NBC’s dime. Recently, he agreed to a five-year deal with Current TV, which ended up disbarring Olbermann after just one year; since then, the network has been sold to Al Jazeera.
So Keith thought it would be a keen idea to catch up with the President of ESPN.
“I agreed to dinner with Keith,” Skipper acknowledged, “because I assumed he’d be provocative and witty and fun to have dinner with, and he was indeed lots of fun. We talked sports and politics, and we had a nice chat. He is very interesting.”
But the main purpose of the dinner discourse, according to Skipper: “Clearly, he was looking to see if there was an entry point to come back… At that point, there was no real appropriate place for Keith to come back, nor did I feel like I was prepared to bring him back.”
After Olbermann parted ways with Al Gore Jazeerz, er, Current TV, he flirted with MLB Network, doing substitute hosting work in late November. Once he was through with Current, I was the first person that argued that MLBN would be the perfect landing spot for him, partly due to his vast baseball knowledge, but also because he’s already had a go with other broadcasters.
It’s realistic to see him return to the revamped “Big Show”, but at the same time, it would be a stretch. “We don’t have a policy that says we won’t bring somebody back,” Skipper added. “There’s no such thing as a condemned list.” However, “this is not an easy place to get back into.”
Indeed, Stephen A. Smith, on the heels of his late night talk show failure “Quite Frankly,” bowed out of ESPN in 2009; he eventually returned and is now one of the jesters in the Worldwide Leader’s three-ring circus known as “First Take.”
Based on Skipper’s comments, Stephen A. should consider himself lucky.
In a counterpoint posted on Deadspin hours after the Times piece was published, John Koblin spelled out the reasons why Olbermann will likely not resume his tenure at the Worldwide Leader.
“If there’s one thing ESPN has long hated, it’s stars,” he wrote. “Bristol executives look warily upon anyone who sees himself or herself as bigger than [ESPN]… Who cares if you were once a legend [there]?”
In other words: in a decade that’s enjoying a 90’s revival of sorts, Keith Olbermann probably won’t be partying like it’s 1995.
By the way: The new version of Ricki Lake’s show was just cancelled.