And so the circle is complete. Keith Olbermann, one of the most popular figures in ESPN's history amongst viewers and one of the most infuriating amongst executives and co-workers, is returning to the World Wide Empire, according to a report in the New York Times.
James Andrew Miller, co-author of the comprehensive ESPN history "Those Guys Have All The Fun," writes that Olbermann will host a nightly one-hour talk show on ESPN2. Topics will include sports and culture, but discussions of politics are specifically forbidden in Olbermann's contract, Miller indicates.
That's not an insignificant point. In the years since ESPN, Olbermann has become a polarizing political figure, as distasteful to conservative viewers as Glenn Beck or Sean Hannity are to liberal ones. Olbermann broke with the genial, go-along-to-get-along mode of left-leaning commentators, adopting the unapologetic, fists-flying style of right-leaning ones.
That style was a sharp departure, at least for viewers, of the wry, witty sportscaster who made up, with Dan Patrick, the "Big Show," the Sportscenter team that made ESPN must-watch television throughout the '90s. However, Olbermann departed in 1997, and tales of his clashes with executives and fellow talent run throughout Miller's book.
So why bring back Olbermann, who has a consistent track record of conflict? In part, because Olbermann draws interest wherever he goes. And with the impending launch of Fox Sports 1, a new Fox all-sports channel, ESPN will look to make headlines and blunt Fox's impact.
Olbermann has never strayed far from sports; his Twitter feed is full of deep-dive baseball commentary, and this fall he'll be anchoring TBS's playoff baseball coverage. And no matter what he says at ESPN, he'll have people talking. These days, where there's no such thing as a "Big Show" anywhere anymore, that's a victory in itself.
-Follow Jay Busbee on Twitter at @jaybusbee.-