Fox tries to get drop on ESPN by adding Olbermann, Myers

Media Watch

November 10, 1998|By Milton Kent

In a shot across the bow of its archrival, ESPN, Fox is expected to announce today that it has signed former ESPN anchor Keith Olbermann and current ESPN host Chris Myers.

Both Myers and Olbermann are expected to have prominent anchoring roles on "Fox Sports News," the nightly sports news show that goes head-to-head with "SportsCenter," the ESPN program on which both made their reputations.

Neither Olbermann nor Myers nor their agents could be reached for comment yesterday, and Vince Wladika, a Fox Sports spokesman, would neither confirm nor deny their hirings. But Wladika did say that Fox planned a "major announcement" today regarding Fox Sports News.

The move to get Olbermann and Myers comes as Fox plans a $2 million advertising campaign to boost the visibility of its cable news program that airs in most areas after local sports programming on Fox Sports Net, or its affiliates, such as Home Team Sports in this market.

Though Fox Sports Net has been up and running for two years, appearing in more than 55 million homes, it has always trailed ESPN in both ratings and notoriety, and its news show has, likewise, battled "SportsCenter" for attention.

Today's move makes the playing field a bit more level.

"We've been hitting singles up to this point. Now, we start hitting home runs," said a Fox source yesterday.

Myers, an Emmy award winner who has been with ESPN for 10 years, has been host of "Up Close," a nightly interview show, for almost four years, and is best known for a riveting interview with O. J. Simpson last year. His contract runs out in December, but he did not appear on last night's program.

Olbermann left ESPN in August 1997 after a highly publicized tiff with management, to host "The Big Show," a nightly news program on MSNBC, and fired a number of broadsides at his former employers about working conditions there.

However, Olbermann, who was a news reporter in Los Angeles and Boston, has been increasingly frustrated at MSNBC with the tenor of his show, particularly with its relentless coverage of the White House scandal involving President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.

In May, Olbermann, in a commencement address at his alma mater, Cornell, said, "There are days now when my line of work makes me ashamed, makes me depressed, makes me cry. About three weeks ago, I awakened from my stupor on this subject and told my employers that I simply could not continue doing this show about the endless investigation and the investigation of the investigation, and the investigation of the investigation of the investigation."

He continued, "I had to choose what I felt in my heart was right, over what I felt in my wallet was smart. I did not tell them they had 24 hours. I did not threaten them. I let them balance for themselves their professional and moral forces and set their timetable. I await their answer. Of course, I am not buying any new furniture for my home."

Olbermann leaves MSNBC with two years remaining of a three-year contract he signed last year. Both Olbermann and Myers are expected to be a part of Fox's over-the-air sports broadcasts, and Olbermann, a baseball historian, could be in line to become host of the network's baseball pre-game show down the line.

Missing wide-right

What were they thinking at ABC Saturday, keeping local viewers tied to Florida State's blowout of Virginia, while then-top-ranked Ohio State was losing to Michigan State?

Yes, the network did eventually shift to the more compelling game in Columbus, but not until the Seminoles game was over pTC and likely after a number of viewers had tuned out.

By the way, in case anyone at Alphabet headquarters is interested, it doesn't matter here in Charm City whether this Saturday's game is Florida State-Wake Forest or Virginia-North Carolina, for Baltimoreans won't care about either.

A much better choice would be Kansas State-Nebraska, but ABC officials would probably rather you bought that game on pay per view.

Pub Date: 11/10/98

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