Skip to main content

Olbermann Returning to ESPN

Updated at 5:20 p.m. ET

After 16 years, Keith Olbermann is returning to the ESPN family.

On Wednesday, the network announced that it will bring back the former SportsCenter anchor, who contentiously left the network in 1997 to host a late-night series for ESPN2, beginning Aug. 26.

Titled Olbermann, the daily late-night show will generally air live at 11 p.m. ET from ABC's Times Square Studios in New York. Like SportsCenter, Olbermann will follow live events (such as the net's coverage of the U.S. Open Tennis tournament which also begins Aug. 26), which means the show may not begin exactly at 11 p.m. on some nights.

The program will focus on the day's relevant sports topics through a mix of perspective and commentary, interviews, contributors, panel discussions and highlights.

"I'm happy to welcome Keith Olbermann back to ESPN," said John Skipper, president of ESPN and cochair of Disney Media Networks, during a conference call with the media. "Keith is a singular talent with enormous intelligence, an engaging personality and huge sports knowledge."

Skipper said that ESPN had been looking for "more than a year" to create a late-night franchise for ESPN2. "He emerged for us as the perfect host to bring that show to fruition."

The show was first reported by the New York Times' James Andrew Miller (co-author of Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN). In Miller's story, he says ESPN will let Olbermann talk about topics other than sports, such as entertainment and pop culture, but not politics. Both Skipper and Olbermann, however, said that is not the case.

"There is no content clause in [my] contract, I don't know where that story came from," said Olbermann. "There is no need for one, they're not restraining me. They don't have to." Skipper added that if there is a story where politics intersects with sports, it's fair game.

Olbermann was one of ESPN's most recognizable personalities in the 90s, often hosting the 11 p.m. SportsCenter along side Dan Patrick; the duo was widely considered to be among ESPN's most popular. He even helped to launch ESPN2 in 1993 as the then-new network's "marquee" personality. Positioned as the hipper, younger sibling to ESPN, airing the X-Games and Jim Rome's initial talk show, it featured a leather-jacket-clad Olbermann as lead co-anchor. ESPN2 had been on the air for mere seconds when Olbermann, frustrated with the hectic runup to its launch, infamously quipped, "Welcome to the end of my career."

Olbermann left ESPN in 1997 after numerous clashes with senior level executives, friction that has in some ways defined the volatile anchor's career. He later had similarly messy breakups with his political talk shows on MSNBC and Current TV.

Skipper said that he was "aware" of Olbermann's previous tenure with the Worldwide Leader and assured that the two addressed how he would handle his reintegration. "It ultimately was my decision," he said.

"It's much more about what Keith is going to do than about what people at ESPN have in their memories or previous experiences," Skipper continued. "Keith is committed to working through that."

Olbermann said that he was grateful for "the chance to put a different ending on the story of my relationship with ESPN."

"I know that we can't go back and undo everything that happened 20 years ago in those environs," he continued. "But I would like to do my best to correct as much of it as I can and appreciate the fresh start."

Olbermann, who is also scheduled to host TBS' postseason baseball coverage in October, said that ESPN will allow him to take time off for that since TBS' show originates from Atlanta.

The announcement also comes exactly one month before Fox will launch its upcoming cable sports network, Fox Sports 1. Earlier this week, Fox detailed its plans for a weekday show with another big TV personality: Regis Philbin.

"Clearly the timing of some of what we're doing is intended put us in a competitive position," said Skipper, who noted that discussions with Olbermann began before Fox announced the upcoming network back in March.

The Big Lead reported late Wednesday that Skipper is planning to
have Olbermann co-anchor a week of SportsCenter episodes beginning Aug. 19, the
first full week for Fox Sports 1.