TCA Summer 2013: Keith Olbermann talks return to ESPN, “Carlos Danger”

At the Television Critics Association (TCA) Summer Press Tour on Wednesday, ESPN presented in the afternoon, with one of the highlights being the return of former network star Keith Olbermann to the family. Olbermann will be hosting the late-night, Monday-Friday program Olbermann on ESPN2 at 11pm ET starting Aug. 26.

Although it was reported by The New York Times last week following the announcement of the show that the famously and vociferously left-leaning Olbermann had a clause in his ESPN contract forbidding him from discussing politics on this new show, Olbermann, fresh off his first rehearsal for his new show the night before, told critics at the panel that was incorrect.

“The Times report was wrong,” he said. “It referred to a contractual clause that said I could not talk about politics. There is no such clause referring to content about anything that we might do on the show. There are also references to having pop culture segments and such. That was also inaccurate.”

While he is not contractually restrained from talking politics — or anything else, for that matter — Olbermann says that he has no plans to discuss partisan politics, but wants to focus on sports with Olbermann. In fact, according to him, “it’s been wonderful not talking politics.” He admitted that his work in news and politics over the past 10 years took a lot out of him, and he welcomed the chance to go back where he had — despite what many may think — fun.

“I’ve done and enjoy and own the work that I did in politics and news,” Olbermann said, “but that’s not what this is. I wanted to go back into sports, and I wanted to repair some transportation means with my former employer, and I got to do both. So there’s nothing preventing me from doing it other than common sense.

One of Olbermann’s more popular segments from his political newscasting days on MSNBC — Worst Person in the World — will carry over to his new show in the form of The Worst Person in the Sports World.

“People kind of like that one,” said Olbermann about “Worst Person,” “even people who weren’t that into the political game or the news game when they were watching the show. That was always a thing. People seemed to enjoy my willingness to stick my neck out and have people come back to me and say, ‘Ten years ago, you put me on the ‘Worst Person’s List,’ and I’m still angry about it because I was only third. Why wasn’t I the worst person? I was only the third worst person.’ So, obviously, we are going to adapt that.”

During the panel, Olbermann did talk politics of a sort when a question about his thoughts on the new scandal befalling New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner (a.k.a. “Carlos Danger”) arose.

“I think that he stole a great fake hotel sign-in name that I would have liked to have used,” Olbermann quipped. “The idea that anyone could call themselves, under any circumstance and for any purpose, ‘Carlos Danger,’ is a tribute to something about him.”

Moving back to sports, Olbermann addressed the topic of his previous stint with ESPN, which has become legendary in the stories of his acrimonious parting of ways with the network (at the panel, Olbermann joked that there would be a three- or four-part edition of ESPN’s 30 For 30 to chronicle his earlier departure). When asked whether his experiences over the decades have given him any insights on how to lessen the chances of another of his infamous, abrupt network withdrawals occurring, Olbermann stated, “Man, I better have at this point. Yeah. I’m 54 years old. If I haven’t figured out what parts of it were my fault …

“There is the blunt reality that whatever I thought of ESPN when I worked there, I had a lot of experience outside of the corporation. I worked for other networks and radio networks and local stations here in Los Angeles and in Boston, and I thought I had a pretty good perspective on what, you know, maybe, a place was where they didn’t agree with me all the time. I didn’t know what I was talking about. The places I went to thereafter made ESPN, in retrospect, look like, you know, a ‘let’s applaud Keith session’ for five years. So I’m very happy to be back, and my experiences have been much improved in dealing with everybody since I have gotten back.”

Happy to be back, and also happy to look back now, apparently, on that first time with ESPN, as Olbermann said there would be references to days gone by on his new show.

“I think it’s important to acknowledge that I was there before. We will be doing that on a nightly basis. We will unleash some things from a time capsule each night because, mostly, I look so God-awful and had such ties, bad hair, bad mustache, and bad glasses and bad teeth at the time. So we are going to reflect on it. …

“… the idea of the burned bridges somehow being a complete impediment to my eventually going back [to ESPN] in a larger capacity, I never really bought it in that sense. I never really thought it was worth, if you will, giving up on the whole thing. I mean, if the bridges are burned, take the tunnel, and we found a tunnel to do it.”

Olbermann airs live Monday-Friday at 11pm ET on ESPN2 starting Aug. 26.