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After a messy public breakup with his last employer resulted in a $50 million lawsuit, Keith Olbermann will return to television in October as a studio host for Turner’s coverage of the Major League Baseball postseason.
The deal will have Olbermann leading TBS’ Atlanta-based studio show with Dennis Eckersley and possibly a second analyst. 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.
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“It’s well known that Keith is a fan of the game and when you combine that with his studio experience, keen insight and passion for baseball and its history, he’ll add a new dimension to our MLB postseason studio shows,” David Levy, president of sales, distribution and sports at Turner Broadcasting, said in a statement. “We’re excited to have him join Dennis in studio, and look forward to Keith sharing his in-depth knowledge of the game, MLB teams and players with our viewers for three great weeks in October.”
A dedicated New York Yankees historian with an encyclopedic knowledge of the baseball, Olbermann began his television career as a sports reporter for CNN in 1981, later solidifying his credentials as one of the original hosts of ESPN’s venerable SportsCenter franchise. He also previously served as studio host for MLB postseason coverage on NBC and Fox in the 1990s. So the new perch is a natural one for him, though many speculated that Olbermann’s next gig would be in sports radio, an environment that is more friendly to outsize personalities.
Olbermann was very publicly fired from Current in March 2012 by network co-founders Al Gore and Joel Hyatt. (They’ve since sold the network to Al Jazeera for $500 million.) The break came a year into Olbermann’s five-year, $50 million contract and spurred dueling lawsuits with Olbermann claiming he was improperly terminated without cause from his Countdown show and that Gore and Hyatt disparaged him in the press. Current called the allegations “false and malicious,” arguing that Olbermann breached his contract by, among other things, failing to show up for work on several occasions and revealing his salary to The Hollywood Reporter and the Wall Street Journal. The dispute was settled last March.
Informal discussions with Turner began in December when Olbermann, his agent Nick Khan, at CAA, and Levy met for lunch in New York. In fact, Olbermann and his representatives had exploratory talks with several networks as the nearly yearlong lawsuit was wending its way to a resolution. Olbermann had dinner with ESPN president John Skipper. But Skipper was 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.” And last month, Skipper said he had not had any further conversations with Olbermann.
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Olbermann first joined ESPN in 1992 when he left KCBS to co-host SportsCenter with Dan Patrick. He had a formative and admittedly rocky tenure there; he was suspended, excluded from SportsCenter’s 2004 25th anniversary celebration and, he has said, eventually banned from ESPN’s Bristol, Conn., campus. He left in 1997 for his first, brief stint at MSNBC before jumping to Fox Sports Net in 1998. In 2003, he returned to MSNBC where he eventually created Countdown and sealed his identity as a liberal news personality.
Since his departure from Current Olbermann has kept himself busy by writing on his baseball blog and attending Yankees games, of course. He turned up last April on The Huffington Post, penning a blog post about the kid at the center of several iconic photos of Jackie Robinson. And last fall he guest hosted MLB Network’s Hot Stove program.
Interestingly, the new arrangement with Turner Sports – part of Time Warner – puts Olbermann under the same corporate roof with Jeff Zucker, who is now running CNN. There is no love lost between Olbermann and Zucker, who as CEO of NBCUniversal famously yanked Olbermann from NBC’s Sunday Night Football preshow.
Email: Marisa.Guthrie@thr.com; Twitter: @MarisaGuthrie
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