Read About Keith Olbermann’s Unhappy Time At ESPN In This Book Excerpt
I don't know if you know this, but there's a highly-anticipated book coming out on May 24th about a certain sports media behemoth in Bristol, Connecticut. In addition to detailing one of the more important media stories of the last 20 years, this book will also include stories about famous TV people. Some of the stories will be flattering, and some will be less so.
One of those famous TV people highlighted Those Guys Have All The Fun, the upcoming ESPN book, is Keith Olbermann.
Olbermann is the godfather of the smart-alecky sports broadcaster and had an undeniably huge impact on ESPN, turning the 11pm SportsCenter into must-see television for males under the age of 30. But his time at Bristol was rocky; he famously told a group of graduating college seniors that thinking about his ESPN career gave him "dry heaves".
In a new excerpt in this month's GQ from the forthcoming book by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales, we get a closer look at those dark, disorderly, important days in Bristol.
The first thing you gather from the excerpt is what Keith Olbermann did at ESPN is held in high esteem by both the people he worked for and the people he worked alongside. Many of his colleagues still talk about his skills in front of the camera with awe.
Chris Berman made that place. But the guy who made ESPN a household word, the guy who made ESPN mean something in the market to everyone, was Keith Olbermann. God, he was a genius. He just reinvented sportscasting by being the smartest guy who ever did it. And watching him in the mid-'90s was a pleasure. It was appointment viewing: What was Olbermann going to say that night?
I'd do the rundown, and Keith would sit behind me and say, "Are you almost done?" In thirty-five minutes he had written the entire show. It was insane. And that happened every day. See, for me, that was fun, because as long as you were, as he put it, "on the raft," you were good, meaning you were in with him.
I've never seen anybody do SportsCenter as well as Olbermann. Nobody. It hasn't even been close.
Some, however, recall an unhappy demeanor behind the scenes.
I was enraged by Olbermann. Guys like that just piss me off, you know, because there's no loyalty. It's just me, me, me. There was no choice but to get rid of him.
Executive vice president
Keith is as talented as anybody I've ever worked with. But he was a terribly unhappy person while he was up in Bristol. First of all, he was single. He didn't drive. What kind of social life can you possibly have? He was not a happy camper up there, and it showed. People just didn't want to work with him anymore; he was tearing the newsroom apart. Keith had to fight management on every single point. So [in 1997] I finally came to the conclusion that despite his brilliance and talent, we would be better off without Keith. I didn't fire Keith; I just chose not to renew his contract. Keith did not respond well—although I'm sure it didn't come as a surprise.
I saw Walsh in the hallway, and I said, "Our long national nightmare is over, huh?" We felt not so much relief when Keith left as unrestrained fucking joy. And it may not be fair to him, because I don't know what his issues are. Some of what happened with him back then is romanticized, but there are still people there who remember how people were treated, spoken to, referred to, and no amount of subsequent gentle behavior is going to erase that.
A fun side note: there is an illustration of a comically-irate Olbermann alongside the excerpt on GQ's website. That illustration is currently @keitholbermann's Twitter avatar.
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