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SPORTS WEEKEND | TV-RADIO / LARRY STEWART

For Olbermann, Little Things Added Up

May 09, 1997|LARRY STEWART

Keith Olbermann is at odds with management. So what else is new?

If everything were hunky-dory between Olbermann and ESPN after five years together, that would be news.

"Keith isn't happy unless he's miserable," said Craig Kilborn, his friend and former colleague now at Comedy Central.

Olbermann is bright and talented, no question about that. He is also different and difficult. Olbermann likes offbeat stories and leads an offbeat life.

So why was he ordered by ESPN to take a two-week paid leave of absence?

There is no simple answer. It's a complex situation. But then most situations involving Olbermann are.

It's not simply that, without permission, he went on Comedy Central, appearing on Kilborn's show to promote a book he and "SportsCenter" co-anchor Dan Patrick wrote.

It's not simply that he continues to write a baseball column for a publication, Baseball America, as he has done since 1993, even though outside writing without written approval is against ESPN policy.

It's not simply that he continually ignores company policies, considering himself above such things.

It's all of the above.

John A. Walsh, ESPN executive editor, said a number of issues were involved in the action but declined to elaborate. Another ESPN source said it basically was Olbermann's continually ignoring company policies.

Calls to Olbermann yielded this voice-mail message: "Hi, this is Keith and I'm not here. No comment." The calls were not returned.

Walsh said that if Olbermann had asked to go on Kilborn's show, permission would have been granted. But he didn't ask. He just did it. And he made fun of not having asked permission, telling the Comedy Central audience "to keep it a secret." And he called Bristol, Conn., home of ESPN, a Godforsaken place.

But Walsh said that what Olbermann said on the show had nothing to do with the action.

Kilborn said Olbermann called to tell him about it and said, "I'm getting two weeks off with pay. Not bad, huh? Dan wants to know when he can go on your show.' "

Olbermann isn't always so flip. When he worked here at Channel 5, he was known for his acerbic memos to colleagues and bosses--and to sportswriters who dared criticize him. He was often angry about something.

When he went from Channel 5 to Channel 2, his salary went from $80,000 to $250,000 and he seemed happy. For a while.

When he went to ESPN, he took a salary cut but again seemed happy. ESPN was where he belonged, he told friends. It appeared he was right. The smugness and condescending style that had irritated so many Los Angeles viewers was softened at ESPN, his talent came to the forefront and his career blossomed.

He became nationally famous. He won Emmys for being the best in the business. He now reportedly makes $300,000. But he complains about being underpaid and threatens to go elsewhere when his contract expires at the end of the year.

The question is not why Olbermann got into trouble with ESPN management but what took him so long? He may never be happy.

THE CONTINENTAL DIVIDE

If any Southern California cable company figured to resist Fox Sports West's offer and not carry the West 2 telecast of Thursday night's Mighty Duck-Detroit playoff game, it would figure to be Time Warner. Time Warner vice chairman Ted Turner and Fox's Rupert Murdoch aren't exactly the best of friends. But Time Warner systems carried the telecast, and Continental Cablevision was the lone holdout.

Continental claimed logistic and other problems, but the bottom line is that the company, opposed to the creation of Fox Sports West 2 from the start, just didn't want to give in. Eventually, Continental may have to. Next week, Fox Sports West is expected to announce new deals with six Southland companies, three of them major.

IN SMART COMPANY

NBC's Dick Enberg was presented a special service award from the GTE Academic All-American Hall of Fame during a dinner at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel on Tuesday night. Enberg, the spokesman for the GTE program that honors scholar athletes, himself is a magna cum laude graduate of Central Michigan and has masters and doctorate degrees from Indiana.

Inductee Todd Blackledge, an ABC college football studio commentator, said he would prefer to be a game commentator and hopes to join Brent Musburger as Dick Vermeil's replacement. Dan Fouts, who is close to a deal to join ABC, is also a candidate for the No. 2 game commentating job.

SHORT WAVES

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