TCA: Keith Olbermann, Dan Harmon and Why TV Always Forgives (Analysis)
Keith Olbermann Returns to ESPN As, Well, Keith Olbermann
There are all kinds of truisms in the television industry. Like no one knows what they’re doing. (Which the smarter and more philosophical ones will agree with). Or that imitation isn’t flattery so much as it’s standard operating procedure. And there’s the one that was on display Wednesday, on the first day of the Television Critics Association summer press tour.
And that is that talent is talent, no matter how difficult, prickly or uncontainable, and it will always be in demand.
Keith Olbermann was on hand for an ESPN session to formally introduce him as the host of Olbermann, a new nightly talk show on ESPN2 that will premiere Aug. 26 at 11 p.m. You may remember Keith Olbermann as the guy who worked at the Bristol flagship of the sports giant from 1992-97, putting SportsCenter on the map with co-host Dan Patrick, making nighty sports highlights essential viewing; he left among charred bridges, finger-pointing and recrimination. That year he went to MSNBC to host The Big Show With Keith Olbermann, focusing on news until the channel’s obsession with Monica Lewinsky, which drove him crazy, forced a departure without hugs in 1998. So he jumped to Fox Sports Net from 1998-2001 as host of The Keith Olbermann Evening News, before leaving again without well-wishes (Rupert Murdoch: "I fired him. … He’s crazy.") He worked for ABC Radio and ESPN Radio (a heralded return with Patrick; Olbermann left when Patrick did in 2007). That same year he worked at NBC’s Football Night in America show. He returned to MSNBC in 2003 with Countdown, which soon became the channel’s signature show and eventually was a catalyst to pitch the whole channel to the left while Fox News held down the right.
The story should be familiar enough by now – Olbermann left acrimoniously in 2011. But he popped up rather surprisingly on Al Gore’s Current that same year (trying to put that hard-to-find cable outpost on the map) and not long after that – 2012! --well, Current turned out the lights on him and the two ended up in court, reaching a settlement (Gore then essentially sold Current to Al Jazeera) and here we are now with Olbermann back at ESPN in a nightly series.
All of this has been gone over to death. The salient point here is that – no matter which side is at fault – you don’t change jobs that frequently and keep getting hired unless you’ve got an overabundance of talent. And in Olbermann’s case – he’s a polymath who has succeeded in sports and in news, in television, radio and print – his is the kind of rare wellspring of talent that people keep wanting to dip into, regardless of history.
(In the interest of transparency and as I’ve said in print many times, I’ve covered Olbermann for years and we’ve been friends for years and even play in the same yearly fantasy baseball league. That hasn’t stopped me from criticizing him or praising him because nobody – and not even Olbermann's mistakes – can shake the foundation of my beliefs that form the basis of this column: The guy is crazy talented. He’s not going away.)
Which is why I’m looking forward to his return to ESPN (and especially to sports, since I loathe politics).
I don’t know Dan Harmon very well at all. But I do know this: also crazy talented. (And yes, before you point it out, there’s a reason I paired those words together twice.)