Turner Sports Exec: Keith Olbermann Realizes He's 'Burned Bridges'

Late Night with Jimmy Fallon Keith Olbermann - H 2012
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Late Night with Jimmy Fallon Keith Olbermann - H 2012

Turner Sports executive David Levy entered into his relationship with Keith Olbermann, his new MLB postseason studio host, with his eyes wide open.

“I think he realizes that he’s obviously burned some bridges out there in the marketplace,” Levy told The Hollywood Reporter. “But he’s a talent. And this is his opportunity to come back and do what he does best.”

Indeed, Olbermann has an encyclopedic knowledge of baseball and even previously served as studio host for MLB postseason coverage on NBC and Fox. But he is also famous for his explosive feuds with management. And during a conference call with reporters Wednesday announcing his new job (and a new long-term contract extension for Ron Darling, who will work alongside Olbermann) the former MSNBC and Current anchor wryly alluded to his peripatetic employment history.

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“The safety valve here is that my season is about a month long,” said Olbermann, referring to Turner’s three weeks of postseason action including both Wild Card games, 18 of the 20 League Division Series games and the National League Championship Series. “And if you go through the 37 pages of my résumé you will notice that every one of my jobs has lasted at least one month.”

Levy first met with Olbermann and Olbermann’s CAA agent Nick Khan back in December. Several meetings and conversations followed, as Levy got comfortable with the idea of bringing Olbermann aboard.

“I spent a lot of time with him,” recalled Levy. “We really talked about the position, about how he perceived the position and about how he’d work with other people. He didn’t need the money. This wasn’t about the money.”

Olbermann’s $50 million lawsuit against Current was settled last March for an undisclosed sum. “This was about getting back to something that he really wanted to do,” continued Levy. “He knows baseball. He has a passion for it. And I’m willing to take that risk because I think he’s that talented."

Olbermann has also worked with several Turner Sports executives and analysts over the years including Darling and Tim Kiley, the veteran producer who will oversee Olbermann’s studio show, and Turner Sports COO Lenny Daniels; the latter two worked with Olbermann at ESPN.

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Levy would not directly comment on the length of Olbermann’s deal, but sources tell THR that there is an option for a long-term relationship and Levy did note that his “goal is to have this studio show be as good as all our studio shows and last a long, long time.”

But he stressed that the TBS job was not a springboard to a broader gig at other Turner assets, like, say CNN, which is now being run by Jeff Zucker, who had a contentious relationship with Olbermann when both men were at NBCUniversal.

“This is a Turner Sports arrangement with Keith,” said Levy during the conference call. “This has nothing to do with CNN. This is not going to start with one thing to lead to another.”

(CNN and Turner Sports anchor Rachel Nichols, who joined the company earlier this year from ESPN and also is repped by CAA’s Khan, appears across the Turner networks including CNN, TBS, TNT and truTV.) Nevertheless, sources tell THR that Levy and Zucker did discuss Olbermann and that Zucker was ultimately supportive.

A self-described baseball nerd and a "caretaker of the game," as Darling described him, Olbermann said he was actually calling the postseason last year as well -- by himself in his living room.

“In [the] last postseason, I did this in my home in front of the TV by myself,” said Olbermann. “So now there will actually be people watching it and I’ll be paid for it. And I’ll get to wear a tie rather than just sitting around in a uniform and pretending to be a player.”

E-mail: Marisa.Guthrie@thr.com
Twitter: @MarisaGuthrie