Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Broken News - Olbermann a Game-Changer at ESPN

Late night television is awfully crowded. David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel, Jay Leno, Jimmy Fallon, Craig Ferguson, Conan O'Brien, Arsenio Hall (again), soon-to-be Seth Meyers, and those are just the hosts!  There is probably an awful reality show or 100.  If you're a food fan, there are re-runs of Diners Drive-Ins and Dives.  There are Law and Order re-runs and Shawshank Redemption is probably playing somewhere.

For sports fans, though, options are relatively limited. There is always SportsCenter and other watered-down highlight shows and, if you're lucky, a game that is running inexplicably late.

Now, and for the two weeks leading up until now, Keith Olbermann has been able to fill the void left for sports fans. The former SportsCenter anchor that left Bristol in the most unceremonious of ways is back with the network and heading his own late night show on ESPN2 aptly named Olbermann.  The show debuted to 317,000 viewers on August 27th.

Olbermann is undoubtedly one of the polarizing figures in the media.  Some people refuse to watch him because of his time in politics with MSNBC and Current.  Some people simply cannot stand his personality.  Then again, some people could care less and just love the snark and nostalgia of the days of SportsCenter past.

There is one thing, however, that Olbermann has never lacked, and that's honesty.  Brutal honesty.  The kind that makes a made figure so polarizing.  He will always say what is on his mind, and, in this media climate that is dominated by public relations and "no comments," that kind of honesty is incredibly refreshing.  So refreshing, in fact, that it is becoming more and more obvious that ESPN needs Olbermann.

Remember his exit from the network way back 16 long years ago?  He was painted as the bad guy.  His pursuit of "hard news" during his time in politics with his honest attitude to boot?  Further painted him as the bad guy.

Then consider that ESPN has a brand to protect.  One large $40 billion brand.  They are the PR dog in the fight.  Maybe they want to investigate further into head trauma in football and the NFL.  Maybe they want to stop calling the football team in Washington by their racist nickname.  Maybe they want to call the NCAA immoral, monopolistic money grubbing corporate suits.

ESPN cannot say any of that.  But Olbermann can.

Olbermann is safe from ESPN's PR.  Why?  Because Olbermann is a classic case that goes something like ESPN can tout him when he does well, but if things go wrong -- and things almost always go wrong at some point when Olbermann is around -- ESPN can simply blame Olbermann for Olbermann and remove themselves from harm's way unscathed.

It's that exact kind of media magic that allows Olbermann (and ESPN by association) to blast CBS Sports columnist Pete Prisco for a column that said the players that settled with the NFL in the concussion lawsuit were only in it for the cash grab.  It also allows him to blast a writer at the New York Daily News for sourcing his own tweet in a story about the New York Jets.  Olbermann can lay how he really feels out on the line more so than just about any other personality at ESPN.  And he can do it without repercussion.  Even the seemingly invincible Bill Simmons has been suspended for some rather inconsequential tweets.

The fact that Olbermann has been painted as the bad guy (which he very well could have been, but that's irrelevant to this case) has actually aided him in his return to Bristol New York.  For now he is benefiting from the ability to be honest and tell the viewers how he really feels.  Now, Keith Olbermann's Olbermann is making noise in the crowded late night television space.


Best of Olbermann (so far...):

Follow Kevin Rossi on Twitter @kevin_rossi.

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