Olbermann Heading Back to TV Sports with ESPN Talk Show

Keith Olbermann (Photo: Getty Images)

Keith Olbermann is heading back to where he first became famous — ESPN.

Olbermann, 54, will host a new, nightly talk show that will debut on ESPN2 on Monday, Aug. 26, ESPN announced Wednesday.

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The show will mark the contentious commentator’s return to a network with which he parted company in 1997 — the first of several where he clashed with management and then departed. The others, of course, were MSNBC and, after that, Current TV — where Olbermann hosted nightly talk shows about politics.

But according to this story on the New York Times Web site, Olbermann’s deal with ESPN forbids him from talking about politics on his talk show, although various “current events” and “pop culture” topics will be allowed.

ESPN made no reference to any such “ban” in its Wednesday press release, but both Olbermann and ESPN President John Skipper addressed the report Wednesday afternoon in a telephone news conference, where they both refuted it.

“This is going to be a sports show, and clearly a sports show,” Skipper said. “And politics and governance and elections are not going to be the subject of the show. Now, there is no prohibition against speaking about [such topics] when sports rubs up against anything else in our culture — music, film … If politics happens to intersect with sports … we would expect Keith to have some point of view there. We as a network don’t have an expressed, public political point of view although we do have smart, intelligent commentators who are allowed to express some points of view.”

“What I would say about this is, the key words are: It’s a sports show,” Olbermann said. “And the idea that I would want to do anything that was not specifically sports-related … I don’t know where that comes from. If I wanted to go and do politics, I would still be doing politics. Clearly, this is something else.”

“I read something about there being some kind of contract clause that pertains to that — I don’t know where that came from,” Olbermann said. “I can tell you there is no content clause in the contract,” he said of his new deal.

Keith’s new show — to be titled “Olbermann” — will air weeknights in late-night, starting “generally” at 11 p.m. eastern time, ESPN said. The use of the word “generally” indicates that some start times will be subject to live sports events running past 11. The one-hour show will be broadcast live from ABC’s studios in Times Square in New York — where “Good Morning America” originates.

The show is expected to focus primarily on sports, understandably, but Olbermann will also be talking about other non-sports subjects, ESPN indicated.

In a prepared statement, Olbermann made reference to his previous stint at ESPN. “I’m overwhelmed by the chance to begin anew with ESPN,” he said. “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.”

Olbermann’s return to ESPN is further evidence that he sees a return to his sports roots as his route toward redemption — and also employment — following his colorful exits from MSNBC and Current (which he later sued). Last month, Olbermann was hired by Turner Sports to anchor coverage of post-season baseball this fall.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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