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It’s official. Keith Olbermann will host an 11 p.m. program on ESPN2 beginning Aug. 26, the network announced Wednesday. The show, which is still without a title, will originate from Times Square Studios in New York, home of ABC’s Good Morning America.
“Apart from the opportunity to try to create a nightly hour of sports television that no fan can afford to miss, I’m overwhelmed by the chance to begin anew with ESPN,” said Olbermann in a statement. “I’ve been gone for 16 years and not one day in that time has passed without someone connecting me to the network. Our histories are indelibly intertwined and frankly I have long wished that I had the chance to make sure the totality of that story would be a completely positive one. I’m grateful to friends and bosses – old and new – who have permitted that opportunity to come to pass. I’m not going to waste it.”
The two-year deal returns Olbermann to the network where he rose to stardom as co-anchor with Dan Patrick on ESPN’s signature franchise SportsCenter. As he alluded to in his statement, his tenure at ESPN ended less than amicably in 1997. He has also taken a lengthy detour into political commentary on MSNBC and briefly on Current. But he has maintained a presence among the baseball faithful via his Twitter feed as well as blog posts and an appearance on MLB Network’s Hot Stove last year.
During a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, Olbermann humorously echoed the contrite tone of his statement. “I could apologize 1,000 times,” he said. “We could get anybody whoever took offense to anything I ever did and bring them all into one place — we would probably need Yankee Stadium — and I could point to everybody and say ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’ We could do it that way or I could do it as a mass blanket thing. But all that is going to make a difference is how I conduct myself.”
The ESPN deal follows a pact with Turner Sports to anchor that network’s Atlanta-based studio show during the Major League Baseball postseason, which commences in October. It also gives ESPN2 a marquee personality – and one with a built-in audience – at time when competition in the sports television world is hitting an apex with the Aug. 17 launch of Fox Sports 1.
Olbermann also noted that his contract does not include language that prohibits him from talking about politics. But he will only take on political issues that are relevant to sports. “If [Congress] is considering a bill to make PED use a capital offense we’ll cover it,” he said by way of an unlikely example.
“Keith is a one-of-a-kind personality and these shows will be appointment viewing for that very reason,” ESPN president John Skipper said in a statement announcing the deal. “Keith brings a blend of editorial sophistication and unpredictability — you can never be sure what you’ll get. Olbermann on ESPN2 gives viewers the quality late-night complement to ESPN’s SportsCenter in the same way we’ve developed distinct show options across our networks the rest of the day.”
During the conference call Skipper noted that getting comfortable with bringing Olbermann back to the network was a process. But ultimately he said, the decision to pull the trigger was “much more about what Keith is going to do than what people at ESPN have in their memory.”
Like SportsCenter on the flagship ESPN, Olbermann’s show will follow live sports and will slide depending on events scheduled. ESPN2 will begin broadcasting US Open tennis Aug. 26. Additional details and correspondents will be announced in the coming weeks.
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