When ESPN's "SportsCenter" signs on tonight at 11, tag-team member Keith Olbermann will be back in his usual place -- anchor desk left, next to Dan Patrick, and our long national nightmare will be over.
Olbermann has been away from the "Big Show" the past two weeks, sitting at home on what ESPN is calling a cooling-off period and what you might call a suspension. Reasonable people can debate the semantics, but Olbermann says this time away has been "productive."
"Everybody sees things a lot more clearly now, from both sides. It's been a very educational time," Olbermann said yesterday.
To recap for those who have been under a rock recently, Olbermann was asked to take a couple of weeks off at ESPN's expense after he appeared on the April 16 edition of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," whose host is "SportsCenter" refugee Craig Kilborn, to promote a new book, titled, oddly enough, "The Big Show."
Olbermann went on Kilborn's program without permission, and while network officials say neither the appearance nor Kilborn's reported persona non grata status at ESPN was the sole reason for the "suspension," the event was just part of an ongoing difference of opinion between the network and Olbermann over the direction of "SportsCenter" and his role with the show.
These supposed squabbles are taking place just as Olbermann's contract expires at the end of the year.
Olbermann would not comment on the suspension nor what led to it yesterday, but acknowledged that there has been a sort of friction between the two sides.
"Things happen and then other things happen and before you know it, you're chasing a snowball or being chased by one, depending on your alacrity," Olbermann said.
In this tumult of the past two weeks, Olbermann said, discussions between the two sides have been "conciliatory," and he said "the finish line" of a new agreement to keep him at ESPN for a "long period of time" is "in sight."
One consequence of this controversy has been to provide some publicity for the book, which is co-authored by Patrick. It's a pretty good bet that Olbermann and ESPN weren't angling for this kind of publicity, though.
"We wanted to do a big publicity push for the book. As it stands [during the suspension], it would have been done with my major contribution being my saying, 'No comment,' " said Olbermann, who will be profiled in this week's People magazine.
There are some very interesting lessons to be taken out of this, for all parties concerned. For ESPN officials, the concern has to be over the potential of losing one of the network's signature figures, particularly as Patrick's name is being bandied about as a possible co-anchor on ABC's "Good Morning America," should Charles Gibson be shown the door, as is being rumored. "SportsCenter" surely would continue, but maybe not at the same level of popularity, or at least not in the short term.
Olbermann, meanwhile, has something to think about, too, if he decides he wants more than what "SportsCenter" has to offer. With the exception of Greg Gumbel, hardly anyone who has left "SportsCenter" has gone on to anything approaching the kind of lasting success he had at ESPN.
For instance, has anyone seen George Grande, Gayle Gardner or Bill Patrick lately? And while Kilborn's show is one of the funniest things going, the fact that he broke the news of Olbermann's suspension on a Wednesday and it didn't register with the public until nearly a week later, should serve as something of a cautionary tale for Olbermann or anyone else who wants to fly from the nest of a behemoth that's available in 70 million American households.
Seems like everyone involved got something out of the PGA Tour's negotiations for its weekly stops, which wrapped up over the weekend for a period from 1999 to 2002.
Tour officials managed to get an estimated $100 million a year from six networks, 2 1/2 times the $40 million annually they're getting now from the networks, according to the Wall Street Journal.
CBS, in new president Sean McManus' first major negotiation, retained its title as the dominant carrier, with 17 tournaments. ABC will air 11 tournaments, with NBC getting five events. NBC's biggest win, besides getting the President's Cup, was preventing the Tournament Players Championship, regarded as the fifth major, from moving from March to May, when its NBA playoff commitments would have kept it from televising the tournament.
On the cable front, the biggest news was the introduction of Fox Sports Net to the scene. The amalgam of regional sports networks will carry the first and second rounds of 11 tournaments in conjunction with the Golf Channel, ESPN will air 19 tournaments and USA will televise 12.
Pub Date: 5/13/97