Like the sun rising each morning in the east, Keith Olbermann has suffered another less-than-friendly divorce with a network. On Friday, Keith’s newest employers Current TV fired the face of their network about a year after signing him to a massive five year, 50 million dollar deal to be their Chief News Officer. (And you thought Jayson Werth’s signing was a bad contract!) After a successful run at MSNBC that saw Olbermann and his show Countdown thrust into the national spotlight as a ferocious liberal voice, Olbermann abruptly left the network last January. At MSNBC, Olbermann had his most successful and sustained run since his days anchoring “The Big Show” with Dan Patrick on SportsCenter.
The move to Al Gore’s Current TV was supposed to provide more freedom for Olbermann’s political commentary and also allow him to bolster the young network. Now, the Olbermann/Current marriage is ending with threats of lawsuits and reports of Olbermann complaining about smelly drivers that dared to speak to him.
To anyone who has followed Keith Olbermann’s media career, this news is as surprising as one of John Calipari’s players leaving college after one year. Here’s his history of burning bridges and bomb dropping at various networks…
1992-1997: ESPN – Olbermann left after various clashes with management and an infamous appearance on Craig Kilborn’s late night show calling Bristol, CT a “godforsaken place” which resulted in a suspension. Olbermann’s tumultuous tenure in Bristol was a popular subject in the ESPN book, with Bob Ley saying, “We felt not so much relief when Keith left as unrestrained f*cking joy.”
1998-2001: Fox Sports Net – Olbermann hosted “The Keith Olbermann Evening News” and was involved with Fox’s MLB coverage. That arrangement ended after Olbermann reported on the potential sale of the LA Dodgers, owned at the time by Rupert Murdoch of News Corp… who also happened to be writing Olbermann’s checks. Amazingly, Olbermann and Murdoch have different takes on exactly how Olbermann’s Fox tenure ended.
2003-2011: MSNBC - Between Olbermann’s stints in sports, he also delved into news, working briefly at both MSNBC and CNN. It was in 2003 where Olbermann made the move to news and political commentary full-time. At MSNBC, Olbermann became one of the most noted Iraq War and Bush Administration critics on television. Olbermann was the centerpiece of MSNBC moving their network in a liberal direction. Countdown with Keith Olbermann was MSNBC’s highest rated show for a significant length of time and led the push past CNN in the ratings behind the largely conservative Fox News. While at MSNBC, Olbermann also had a brief stint co-hosting NBC’s Football Night In America with Dan Patrick. In spite of Olbermann making his mark in news and politics, again the relationship ended in flames – first with a suspension, then with a full parting of the ways.
That’s quite the impressive trail of destruction. So where does Olbermann’s most recent breakup with Current TV leave him…
You may be fond of, ambivalent to, or disgusted with his hard-left politics, but there’s no questioning his supreme talent in front of the television cameras. Just watch this recent tribute to the late Bert Sugar to see what Olbermann is capable of in presenting either sports or news. The question has never been with regards to Olbermann’s abilities, but his behavior away from the cameras that always seems to leave both himself and the network disgruntled. Given his troubled genius history, Olbermann has burned bridges almost everywhere. There just aren’t that many places left that would willfully consider employing Keith Olbermann.
First let’s look on the news side. Olbermann on Fox News is about as good of a fit as Ohio State playing football in the SEC. It’s difficult to see straight-down-the-middle CNN make a move for perhaps the most polarizing liberal commentator in the country. It’s also difficult to see the news divisions at CBS or ABC hire someone who is so politically charged. MSNBC and Current are the two places Olbermann would fit best, but relationships with both networks have been terminated just in the last year.
Does this mean then that a return to sports is in Olbermann’s future? Unless he goes the independent Glenn Beck route, it may be where the smart money lies. But again, options are limited. ESPN is an even less likely destination than Fox News as it would take an apocalyptic series of events for him to return to Bristol. Fox Sports has already tried and failed before, and with the politics involved, any association with Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. is near impossible. The new NBC Sports Network is a possibility… but again, Olbermann’s nasty departure from MSNBC would likely keep any network in the Peacock family from hiring him. There isn’t much for Olbermann at CBS Sports and even less on the CBS Sports Network.
With the television landscape littered with Olbermann wreckage, it leaves one reasonable solution…
Olbermann’s passion for baseball is well documented. He already has his own MLBlog officially affiliated with MLB.com that dates back to 2009. His Twitter page is filled with baseball talk and his profile even reads, “There is Baseball, and occasionally there is other stuff of note.”
Above anybody else, MLB makes sense as a safe landing place. Given Olbermann’s affinity for the sport, he may be willing to make it work (at least until the next massive blowup). The network already has a heavyweight in Bob Costas, and Olbermann could provide a variety of services whether it be in the studio, offering commentary, or doing his own shows and documentaries. Even with the presence of Costas, big names like Peter Gammons, and respected personalities like Brian Kenny, MLB Network could use a signature voice for the network. Olbermann could potentially provide that voice and reach out to a broader audience. Adding Olbermann could continue to make MLB Network a viable alternative to Baseball Tonight and the MLB coverage ESPN offers.
Adding a high-profile name like Keith Olbermann would be a big, albeit risky move for MLB Network in the short term to continue adding to their roster. Even if it is for the short term though (and who would expect anything different given Olbermann’s history), MLB Network may be able to gain enough notoriety and quality television to make the move worthwhile.