Keith Olbermann is returning to ESPN next month, the company finally announced today. For the last few months, Olbermann’s return to ESPN has been a formality, it was just a matter of when. Olbermann, the cantankerous and brilliant TV host, helped make Sportscenter must-see TV in the early 90s, but left the company in 1997 under ugly circumstances. Much ink has been spilled over his departure because he napalmed bridges in Bristol.
Sixteen years later, ESPN President John Skipper has orchestrated his return, and is giving Olbermann a nightly show on ESPN2. The show will debut on August 26 after the US Open. I’m hearing that Skipper’s plan is to get Olbermann on ESPN a week earlier – August 19 – by hosting Sportscenter for the week. Why? Because August 19th is a pivotal date: The Monday debut of Fox Sports 1, ESPN’s new rival. (The show technically debuts on Saturday, August 17th, after UFC in Boston). Olbermann hosting Sportscenter for that week isn’t a done deal, but as Fox Sports 1 rolls out heavy promo for its version of Sportscenter, expect the Olbermann chatter to heat up.
In addition to that, here are two Olbermann nuggets that I don’t believe have been reported: ESPN has attached two of its hit-makers to the show: Jamie Horowitz (he re-created 1st Take) and Kevin Wildes (SportsNation, Numbers Never Lie). No, this does not mean the show will feature nightly screaming debates. Olbermann and Wildes know each other well – Kevin is married to Libby Geist, whose brother, Willie Geist, worked closely with Olbermann at NBC.
Perhaps the biggest Olbermann question is whether or not Fox Sports bricked by not going after him. Yes, he sparred with Fox News nightly during his time at MSNBC, and there’s a chance that if Fox ever called Olbermann, he’d hang up on them. But … if you’re rolling out a new network in hopes of challenging ESPN, could the argument be made that Olbermann is just the talented lightning rod you’d want on your side?