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Keith Olbermann is exiting ESPN once again.
The television personality, who rejoined the sports network in August 2013, won’t be renewing his deal to anchor his ESPN2 program. The news follows a THR report from July 1, which noted that ESPN management floated an ultimately unworkable caveat: that Olbermann cease engaging in commentary.
“Keith is a tremendous talent who has consistently done timely, entertaining and thought-provoking work since returning to ESPN,” said the network in a statement. “While the show’s content was distinctive and extremely high quality, we ultimately made a business decision to move in another direction. We wish Keith nothing but the best and trust that his skill and ability will lead him to another promising endeavor.”
Network executives also floated the idea of having Olbermann take his show to the network’s headquarters in Bristol, Conn., or to the Los Angeles facility rather than the ABC News Times Square studio in New York that ESPN leases for Olbermann — a move that would save ESPN $40 million at a time when the sports leader is feeling a financial pinch from its Disney corporate parents. ESPN president John Skipper has been given a mandate to cut $100 million from the network’s budget next year and to cut $250 million in 2017. ESPN says those numbers are “factually incorrect.”
ESPN also has abandoned a previously announced plan to have the ESPN radio program Mike & Mike move to the same New York studio where Olbermann is produced.
“Mike & Mike has been an extremely successful sports talk show for its first 15 years,” said Norby Williamson, ESPN executive senior vp studio and event production, in a May 11 press release announcing the move. “The physical move to New York combined with a strong working relationship with ABC will help evolve it into a very powerful and engaging morning sports-entertainment talk show.”
And Olbermann’s exit will follow that of Bill Simmons, who left the network in May after Skipper declined to offer him an extension on his $5 million annual contract. Simmons’ departure came after the outspoken personality delivered multiple profane attacks on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and his handling of the Ray Rice domestic-violence scandal and accusations of deflating footballs leveled against New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Olbermann delivered his own pointed critiques of Goodell’s handling of the Rice saga.
Olbermann’s departure ultimately comes down to “creative differences,” says once source. While Olbermann by all accounts has enjoyed his current stint at the network, cutting the commentary from his program always was going to be a nonstarter.
UPDATED JULY 10, 5:34 P.M.: ESPN disputes budgets cut figures
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