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Keith Olbermann will return to TV sooner than expected. The former MSNBC and Current anchor has finalized a deal with ESPN for a late-night show to air on ESPN2 later this year, sources tell The Hollywood Reporter. The show will originate from the ABC News Nightline studio overlooking Times Square. The deal is expected to be announced Wednesday.
The two-year contract returns the erstwhile SportsCenter anchor to the network where he rose to stardom as an erudite and skilled sports commentator. His pairing with Dan Patrick on SportsCenter was among the most popular and memorable in the long history of the franchise.
The ESPN pact also follows closely on the heels of Olbermann’s deal with Turner Sports to host that network’s coverage of the Major League Baseball postseason, which commences in October.
That deal will have Olbermann leading TBS’ Atlanta-based studio show with Dennis Eckersley. TBS this season has both Wild Card playoff games, 18 of the 20 League Division Series games and exclusive rights to the National League Championship Series. Sources say the deal has an option for the 2014 postseason as well.
Informal discussions with Turner began in December when Olbermann, his agent Nick Khan at CAA and David Levy, president of sales, distribution and sports at Turner Broadcasting, met for lunch in New York. Olbermann also had dinner with ESPN president John Skipper. But Skipper was initially (publicly) noncommittal, telling The New York Times that there was “there was no real appropriate place for Keith to come back, nor did I feel like I was prepared to bring him back.” But last month, Skipper told THR that he was intrigued by the possibility of bringing Olbermann back to the network. “I wouldn’t have had dinner with him if we didn’t sit around a few times and think about is there a reason to bring Keith back. We don’t have a policy here that you can never come back,” he said.
Of course, Olbermann’s clashes with management are well-documented. And his departure from ESPN in 1997 was less than amicable. He has said that he learned he was banned from the network’s Bristol, Conn., campus and he intimated in an interview with David Letterman that the relationship was irreparable.
“If you burn a bridge, you can possibly build a new bridge, but if there’s no river any more, that’s a lot of trouble,” said Olbermann during a 2007 appearance on Letterman’s Late Show.
And Olbermann wryly alluded to his peripatetic employment history during a June 5 conference call with reporters announcing the Turner deal.
“The safety valve here is that my season is about a month long,” he said, referring to Turner’s three weeks of postseason. “And if you go through the 37 pages of my resume you will notice that every one of my jobs has lasted at least one month.”
Olbermann’s deep knowledge and reverence for the game of baseball has been a constant during a career that has veered into news and commentary as host of the left-leaning Countdown program on MSNBC for eight years and then briefly on Current, before that partnership ended in a recently settled lawsuit. For ESPN, signing a personality with a profile like Olbermann’s – he still maintains a following among liberals as well as baseball fans – gives the network a marquee name to promote on its ESPN2 service at the same time that Fox is launching its own 24-hour cable sports channel, Fox Sports 1.
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