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Is the World Ready for Olbermann Lite?

Sports Weekend | RADIO / TV

January 08, 1999|LARRY STEWART

Take away the pomposity, the arrogance, and the narcissism, as Keith Olbermann appears to have done, at least for the time being, and he is a darn good sports news anchor, and not a bad guy, either.

Olbermann began his new role as an anchor for Fox Sports News this week, and to say his relationship with Fox is in the honeymoon stage is understating it.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday January 9, 1999 Home Edition Sports Part D Page 9 Sports Desk 1 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
TV/radio--Keith Olbermann referred to the rivalry between ESPN's "SportsCenter" and "Fox Sports News" as "blood sport." The quote was incorrectly attributed Friday.

This is a lovefest.

Arthur Smith, executive vice president in charge of production and programming for Fox Sports Net, called Olbermann "the best sports anchor in the world."

Tracy Dolgin, chief operating officer of Fox's cable holdings, said, "If Keith doesn't increase our ratings by 10%, I'll be surprised. But ratings aren't the main reason we hired him. We hired him for credibility, just as we hired John Madden for credibility."

Said Olbermann, "The way I look at it, 97% of what was needed was already in place."

That was meant to sound self-effacing. The new and improved Olbermann comes across as humble, gracious, and a team player.

"I'm about as rusty as Randall Cunningham was for his first exhibition game," Olbermann said after his first night on the job.

During Olbermann's first night, there was a story about Jerry Rice screaming at a San Francisco Chronicle reporter. Olbermann's reaction: "If you can't take being criticized in the newspaper then you shouldn't play the game."

Afterward, off the air, Olbermann said the same thing about himself, which is a big change from the way he was when he worked at Channel 5 and Channel 2 before going to ESPN in 1990. Nasty memos to TV columnists and sports editors were commonplace.

"I think my anger was often disproportionate to what caused it," he said.

No question Olbermann is brilliant. He brings to a sportscast things no one else can. On a report on the NBA lockout the night before it was settled, he worked John Foster Dulles, former U.S. secretary of state, into the mix, talking about how Dulles' brinkmanship applied to the state of things in the NBA labor dispute.

But Olbermann's brilliance has sometimes gotten him in trouble. Some of the things he tried simply didn't work on common folk.

Another problem was his intolerance for anything less than perfection, resulting in angry outbursts that caused problems with bosses and co-workers.

He has since resorted to psychiatric therapy--"I've become the poster boy for therapy," he said the other day--and now everything appears to be perfect.

It should be. Fox spent $1 million to buy out his contract with MSNBC and is paying him a yearly salary in the $900,000 range.

How long is this honeymoon going to last? We'll check back in six months. It could be a different story.

THE WAR HEATS UP

With Olbermann and Chris Myers, two big guns, now at up-and-charging Fox Sports News, the war with ESPN's "SportsCenter," the longtime incumbent, is heating up. Says Olbermann of the rivalry, "Personally, I still have a lot of friends at ESPN, but professionally it's a kill-them-and-eat-them-up rivalry." Dolgin, the Fox executive, calls it "blood sport." . . . Olbermann was talking about the advantage Fox Sports News has in following games involving local teams and had this to say about his days at Channel 2: "We got 20-21 ratings with NFL postgame shows that had the production value of a high school play. There was no adult supervision." Ouch. . . . Myers makes his debut as the new host of Fox Sports Net's "Goin' Deep" Sunday at 9 p.m., when Charles Barkley will be his guest. Myers replaces Joe Buck, who wanted to cut back on his workload. Myers would seem to be perfect for the role.

RATINGS GAME

NFL ratings for the regular season on Fox and CBS generally were flat. Fox improved from an average of 10.7 to a 10.8, while CBS, with a 10.2, was a little off from the 10.4 NBC got last year for the AFC package. But ABC's average rating for "Monday Night Football" dipped from a 15.0 in 1997 to a 13.9. Even though ABC was plagued by a series of lopsided games, it still appears moving the kickoff to 5:15 p.m. wasn't such a good idea. . . . The overall average for Fox's pregame show dipped from a 4.0 to a 3.7, while CBS had a 2.7 average, compared to a 3.7 for NBC in 1997. Of the disparity between CBS and Fox, Sean McManus, the president of CBS Sports, said, "They had a five-year head start."

RADIO DAZE

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