Whither Keith?

May 27, 2001

For the last decade Keith Olbermann has been the Larry Brown of
broadcasting, a supremely talented but restless soul who has worn
out a string of welcome mats as he hopped from ESPN to MSNBC to
Fox and Fox Sports Net. But unlike Brown, who now appears to be
ensconced as coach of the 76ers, Olbermann is on the move yet
again, having resigned last week after 2 1/2 years at Fox, where
he'd been hired originally to anchor the nightly Fox Sports News
(renamed National Sports Report). Though the network said that
the parting was "mutually amicable" and that it was partially
motivated by economics (at the end, Olbermann reportedly was
earning nearly $1 million a year essentially to do one weekly
show, the Sunday-night The Keith Olbermann Evening News), it
nonetheless was the latest sign that Olbermann's star, once so
bright, continues to dim.

So what's next for a guy who doesn't do play-by-play, is far too
cerebral for the fraternity-party style of many studio shows and
has passed through most of the sports networks? Last week
Olbermann (who didn't respond to SI's interview requests) joked
in an e-mail to Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News that
"I'm being paid in seven figures through year's end not to be on
TV and not to do radio--which is, ultimately, my dream job." The
reality may be a little too close to that for his own good.
"He's very talented, and I'd hate to see him not find a place to
express his point of view," says NBC's Bob Costas, one of
Olbermann's friends in broadcasting. "From the outside looking
in, I'm kind of surprised he left, because the Evening News was
a perfect niche for him." Though Evening News was smart and
provocative, it didn't draw enough viewers, getting only a .30
in the ratings, down from .34 for National Sports Report, which
had previously held the time slot.

Olbermann has mentioned radio as a potential next stop, and a St.
Petersburg Times editor suggested he'd be a perfect fill-in for
Andy Rooney on 60 Minutes. The sad truth, though, is that
Olbermann's perfect format was ESPN's SportsCenter and Dan
Patrick his perfect foil, his well-coiffed, deadpan muse. Their
reign, from 1992 to '97, as "tag-team partners" was as good as
sports news will ever be, an acerbic nightly ride through the
backwoods of the box scores. Unfortunately, Olbermann will
probably spend the rest of his career trying to recapture what he
had with Patrick. So unless ESPN were to rehire Olbermann (a
network source says, "We have no interest whatsoever," and ESPN's
director of communications Mike Soltys told USA Today that
Olbermann "didn't burn bridges here; he napalmed them"), he will
continue to be TV's version of Larry Brown, just without his
Allen Iverson.

--C.B.

Olbermann will probably spend the rest of his career trying to
recapture what he had with Patrick.

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