Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Olbermann, again

You can always count on Keith Olbermann to come up with a reason to write a column.

I've stated my admiration for his broadcasting talents in this space in the past. He's a brilliant communicator, someone who simply commands your attention when he's on the air. But Olbermann also has shown over the years that he doesn't suffer fools gladly, and when you are that smart, there are more than a few fools out there.

That's led to a unique career path, that's includes some sports jobs and some news stints over the years. I lost track of Olbermann when he was on Current TV, Al Gore's channel that wasn't on my cable lineup. I'm told that didn't end particularly gracefully either for anyone involved there.

(Tangent: Someone will have to explain to me where people get the money to guarantee that they are able to watch every possible channel at a given moment. I'd don't even particularly like paying $80 for the basic channel lineup of 2 through 70 - with some of those missing. But I digress.)

We wondered what Olbermann's next step would be, and it was a surprise - a return to ESPN. Someone famously described his departure from that outlet as not just burning bridges, but napalming them. Olbermann's reply about his comeback there was along the lines of, when the bridge is out, take tunnel.

He's in his third week of broadcasting now on ESPN2, and it's been a tough time to debut. ESPN has had the rights to the U.S. Open tennis tournament for most of that time, and as we know, no one can predict when such a broadcast will end. So Olbermann has been backed/backed/backed well into the night most of the time.

Therefore, when I've asked a few people if they've seen the show, the answer usually has been no. But thanks to my particular lifestyle, I've caught it a lot. And one word comes to mind when describing it.


There's a great deal of smarts on display each night, and it comes in a variety of forms. The show often starts with a strong, fairly long segment on a particular issue in sports. A guest frequently turns up to offer opinions on the matter as well. It can be anything from the NCAA's suspension of Johnny Football to soccer in Costa Rica, but so far I haven't seen a bad one.

Then there are the highlights of the night, filled with the attitude and Olbermann and Dan Patrick virtually invented 20 years ago on ESPN. Two other regular features so far are "The Worst Sports Persons in the World," familiar to viewers of Olbermann's "Countdown" show on MSNBC, and "Time Marches On," a newsreel-like group of silly stories.

But there are also good solid interviews along the way, too. The program actually has some authors on the show, and how often do you see authors on television these days? (O.K., I'm biased on this one because of what's in this link, but it's still worth noting.) You can only talk about Tim Tebow's future for so long, and SportsCenter probably has gone past its limit there.

What we've got, then, is Olbermann's old show in a slightly altered form. Tackling sports matters has taken the intensity down a notch at times, and it feels a little less in-your-face. I don't know if the right wingers will ever forgive Olbermann for his nightly liberal viewpoints on the MSNBC show, but that's their problem.

It will be interesting to see if this program evolves in the months to come. Maybe it could become something of a "Nightline," with particularly long segments dedicated to stories that warrant such coverage. No matter how it's done, though, it will be done with plenty of smarts.

Therefore, when I can watch it, I will.

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