For NBC, Olbermann will use his political, ESPN playbooks

ON MEDIA

The Kickoff

April 20, 2007|By RAY FRAGER

Just before she took my call earlier this week, an NBC Sports spokeswoman said, she had phoned back someone she assumed to be a member of the media. But all the fellow wanted to do was yell at her about NBC's addition of Keith Olbermann as a co-host of the Sunday night highlights/preview show Football Night in America.

Olbermann's liberal viewpoint and unrelenting criticism of President Bush on his nightly Countdown MSNBC news show can have that kind of polarizing effect. But anyone who remembers his pairing with Dan Patrick on ESPN's SportsCenter recalls what a terrific sports studio presence Olbermann is and should be glad to welcome him to a regular network sports gig.

Dick Ebersol, NBC Universal Sports and Olympics chairman, said: "Most importantly to me, the studio world of sports has had very few wildly successful practitioners and, in Keith's case, it's more than being successful; in many ways he and Dan Patrick were pioneers in the SportsCenter world.

"More than anything else, I love how opinionated he is," Ebersol said, according to highlights from Monday's conference call. "I'm sure there will be some phone calls from the league on Monday morning from occasional opinions that will come up now on Football Night in America."

For example, speaking about the NFL Players Association, Olbermann said: "This is the first time in a long time that any professional sports union, any players association has acknowledged - just acknowledged, let alone acted on it - that the conduct off the field of its members is vital to the success of its industry. The NFL's players association has done something players associations have been told not to do over the last 40 years, which is to take some responsibility and assume that they are as much symbolic owners of the game as the actual owners are."

Those who prefer Olbermann in smaller doses can probably take heart in the many voices being employed on Football Night. Bob Costas is the metaphorical big man as host, joined by co-hosts Olbermann and Cris Collinsworth, and analysts Jerome Bettis and another new addition, Tiki Barber.

As for those worried Olbermann's political commentary will intrude upon our pristine Sundays of concussive sport, he said: "We haven't discussed parameters, but I think they are naturally there. What we are doing on Football Night in America is football. ... So if you are thinking that this is going to be some sort of venue for promoting or criticizing a political viewpoint, I don't see it happening. I am not going in there with any kind of agenda. ... There will be plenty of opinions about football."

Tip it off

On one level, maybe we should hope for some bad NBA playoff games on TNT. That would make the halftime and post-game more entertaining.

Speaking in a conference call Wednesday, Inside the NBA analyst Charles Barkley said of the program's approach: "The studio show works because we just try to have fun. We have one rule - it depends on the game. If the game is a good game, we let the game speak for itself. If it's a bad game, we want everyone to still watch, so we try to have a little more fun."

But anyone who has watched Barkley, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson knows they will have fun regardless.

Oh, say, can you see?

Women in broadcasting get scrutinized in a way men just don't. (Remember the analysis of Katie Couric's wardrobe when she took over at CBS Evening News?) So it shouldn't be surprising to see a posting on baltimoresun.com's message board about how MASN sideline reporter Amber Theoharis had a Lisa Loeb look during Wednesday's Orioles game because Theoharis wore glasses vaguely resembling those favored by the singer.

Now, suppose Gary Thorne had shown up beside Jim Palmer with his hair in a high mohawk - would somebody say he was doing a Sanjaya?

Actually, somebody probably would, but you get what I mean.

ray.frager@baltsun.com

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