I was a bit of a slow convert to Keith Olbermann’s eponymous ESPN2 show. Part of me wondered if we really need Olbermann’s Countdown style adapted to sports. Is everything really that serious? Does sports television need a man forcing our vegetables right down our throats when all we want is to be hooked up to an IV filled with sugary hot takes?
The sports climate is in such a way that yes, we do need Olbermann, and we definitely need Olbermann. The very same way we need Outside the Lines to deftly guide us through the how, we need Olbermann to use a hammer on the how and constantly wonder why. ESPN2’s new 5 p.m. ET hourlong block is an elephant’s trunk: it can pick up a single blade of grass or tear down a tree.
Never was that more apparent than Monday, when Keith led off his show with a typically fire and brimstone call for pretty much most of the NFL hierarchy and most of South Jersey’s law-enforcers to resign.
That’s textbook Olbermann, where even if you don’t agree with every crux of his argument, you sit and admire how good he is at manipulating the televisual medium to his every whim. The five minutes on that video are why he has endured despite all of the complaints, all of controversy, all of the Olbermannity.
Olbermann then handed off to longtime frienemy (and recent AA Podcast guest!) and fellow sports TV legend Bob Ley, who merely did what his show — Outside the Lines, if you’ve forgotten — has been doing for decades. They held an intelligent, reasoned debate between knowledgeable parties (two of the four panelists were women, one the excellent sportswriter Jane McManus and the other an advocate for domestic violence) that sought to get to the most important things: why did this happen, and without speculating wildly, what happens next?
In between the two shows, a talkback happened between Olbermann and Ley, sort of a serious version of what Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert used to do in between their shows. It was a pleasant handoff, sort of a helpful way to switch tones that Ley told us on the podcast would be a part of the hour-long block of programming.
I think that, regardless of whether it’s football season or not, these two shows should be kept together. And it’s really a shame that ESPN has put them up against the very successful Around the Horn and PTI in the same timeslots. However, the OTL-Olbermann combo should be held in the same regard. It makes for an excellent hour of smart, interesting, opinionated, journalistically sound sports television.