I try to keep politics out of these rants – – other than my obvious total disregard for the Congress of the United States as a body that looks out for the people it represents. However, since my discussion today will focus on a man who went from sports coverage to political commentary on television, politics will creep in despite my intentions. Therefore, let me reveal in general terms where I am politically.
I am an independent centrist. I am convinced that neither the liberals nor the conservatives have a monopoly on wisdom, insight and solutions to society’s ills. I think that both the extreme liberals and the extreme conservatives actually do damage to our society.
That positioning places me in a spot where I can have bricks lobbed at me from both the right and the left. C’est la vie…
The folks who run Current TV – – a cable “news” network founded by Al Gore and Joel Hyatt – – recently fired Keith Olbermann. After Olbermann had been dismissed by MSNBC a little more than a year ago, Current TV hired him – – reportedly for $50M over 5 years plus an equity stake in the network itself! – – to reprise his Countdown program on Current TV. Countdown had been the most watched of the commentary programs on MSNBC; Current TV was having difficulty getting more than a handful of folks to watch anything they had on the air; Olbermann’s political leanings were in line with Al Gore’s; so, the hiring seemed to make a ton of sense. That marriage lasted from February 2011 until March 2012.
The statements issued by Current TV and by Olbermann in the days following the firing have been less than congenial to say the least. However, a similar lack of amiability accompanied Olbermann into unemployment in the past.
Keith Olbermann became a recognizable TV figure on ESPN in the 1990s. He and Dan Patrick co-hosted SportsCenter at 11:00 PM ET. That remains the pinnacle of ESPN’s SportsCenter as news/entertainment even though Olbermann left ESPN in 1997. To give you an idea of the stature of SportsCenter at the time of Olbermann’s firing at ESPN, consider this remark taken from Michael Freeman’s book ESPN: The Uncensored History:
“The overall intelligence of ‘SportsCenter’ was lowered an octave. So was its mirth and edginess. Olbermann helped take ‘SportsCenter’ to a place no other sports information show had been and probably never would go again.”
Now juxtapose that praise with comments from co-workers at ESPN when news of Olbermann’s departure became known. (Also taken from ESPN: The Uncensored History)
“Our long national nightmare is over!” [Attributed to Bob Ley]
“Keith is one of those tortured geniuses. That is one of the things that makes him good. But as an employee, he has a pretty short shelf life. He became bitter about ESPN after he left , which is insane because ESPN was as good to him as he was to it.” [Attributed to Charlie Steiner]
“If he’s on your team, he’s a great person to have by your side. If he isn’t, you had better bring help. Bring the infantry.” [Attributed to Dan Patrick]
“… [Olbermann is] a baby who would quit, literally quit, at least twice a week, whenever he didn’t get his way.” [Attributed to Suzy Kolber]
All of this means to say that news of Keith Olbermann getting fired is really not news – – any more than Billy Martin getting fired was news or any more than Bob Knight losing his temper was news. The problem now is that he has been fired from ESPN and FOX Sports and he has been fired from two networks that live on political commentary both of which fit with his political preferences. Agree with him or not – – and I tend not to agree with the majority of his political essays – – Keith Olbermann does indeed have the seeds of genius in him. Some folks compare him to Howard Cosell. I can see similarities but my preferred comparison would be to Ernie Kovacs as a guy who had a ton of talent with an equal measure of self-destruction.
Keith Olbermann is a natural as a TV host and or as an anchor. He makes you think and he makes you laugh. Sometimes he also makes you angry. As a host or an anchor, that is precisely what every one of them ought to be able to do. Nevertheless, few of them come anywhere near that mark. If he does not find another gig on radio or TV, those media will be the worse for that – – and I am not referring here in any way to whatever positions he may espouse should he get another TV or radio gig.
Because I believe that Keith Olbermann belongs on TV, I have a suggestion as to how he might begin to reconstruct himself and his career.
Keith Olbermann belongs on MLB Network.
I am not a seamhead; Keith Olbermann is a “seamhead-squared”. He has the ability to keep me interested in discussions of baseball history and statistics for long periods of time – – even though I really do not care nor do I often agree with the conclusions he seems to draw. If he can do that, then giving him a time slot on MLB Network to replace the seemingly endless and assuredly tedious studio shows on that network is a no-brainer.
Of course, there is no guarantee that Keith Olbermann would not find a way to get cross-wise with management at MLB Network. After all, he has done that just about everywhere he has been over the last 20 years. However, at least MLB Network is a place that would allow him to immerse himself in a field he has always found fascinating. [Aside: I have heard him say that he is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research. No one belongs to that organization who does not love baseball stats…]
When people leave jobs under duress, many of them burn bridges behind them. If you consider how Michael Freeman described Keith Olbermann’s behaviors at ESPN and in the days following his departure there in the book, ESPN: The Uncensored History, you might think “burning bridges” is a middling kind of action.
“He [Olbermann] was a human SCUD missile.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………