Before seemingly everyone grew to hate Keith Olbermann—conservatives for the "Mr. Bush, have you no shame, SIR?" special comments; liberals for the assholery that got him kicked out of two straight left-wing news networks; moderates for the smug put-on-glasses-take-off-glasses routine that you saw every night on "Countdown"—the guy was one of the most loved sports figures in America. Maybe not among his peers, as anyone else who read "Those Guys Have All the Fun" can attest. (Okay, definitely not among his peers.) But for the rest of us peons, he was ESPN.
Along with Dan Patrick, Olbermann elevated "Sportscenter" to must-watch TV, creating a show that was so iconic that it directly inspired an Aaron Sorkin show, "Sports Night." He was smarter than anyone else in sports media, and he and Patrick were funnier, too. They were a phenomenon.
Which is why yesterday's news that Olbermann is angling for a return to ESPN should be greeted with at least the same level of excitement generated for the return of that other long-dormant Disney property, "Who's Line Is It Anyway?" Instead, it looks like ESPN isn't too thrilled to talk about bringing the former anchor back. From the New York Times:
Olbermann’s expressions of interest included dinner at New York’s Four Seasons Restaurant with John Skipper, ESPN’s president.
“Keith Olbermann, both personally and through a couple people I know, reached out to say, ‘Gee, I would love to have dinner,’ ” Skipper said. “I agreed to dinner with Keith 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.
“Clearly he was looking to see if there was an entry point to come back.”
For now, Skipper indicated that a return for Olbermann was not imminent.
“After the dinner, 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,” Skipper said.
“We don’t have a policy that says we won’t bring somebody back. We’re running a great business, and when we think we can get quality content, there’s no such thing as a condemned list. That said, this is not an easy place to get back into. There are not that many successful examples of people who have come back, in part because it’s like water filling a vacuum. When somebody leaves, somebody else fills their place.”
Kind of a non-answer, huh?
It's true that Olbermann carries a lot of baggage. He became a caricature of himself over the last few years, and he was, by all accounts, a miserable co-worker. (Remember when Charley Steiner, Craig Kilborn and a bunch of other former anchors returned for "Reunion Week" eight years ago? Yeah, Keith wasn't invited back.) But just watch these clips and try to remember/imagine how great "Sportscenter" was before it devolved into its current state—a mixture of reality TV, "debate" over topics impossible to solve, and Tim Tebow.
For anyone else tired of all the dumb crap—the non-stop coverage of a certain backup quarterback, the phony debates, the contrived storylines devoted to "controversies" like LeBron's pregame dunking, the complete lack of hockey reporting, and the other daily ways that SportsCenter knocks you over the head with stupid—Olbermann's eagerness to take a job at the network should be seen as good news.
If he were to be brought back, and if he were suitably chastened and kept things non-political, his influence would bring the show out of its rut. And if he somehow didn't? At least we'd hear some catchphrases that don't make you throw your remote.
Here's hoping all the parties involved work it out.