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Olbermann Becoming a One-Man Show

SPORTS WEEKEND | TV-RADIO

July 21, 2000|LARRY STEWART

Anyone who had a year-and-a-half in the Keith Olbermann over-under pool is a winner. He lasted exactly that long on Fox Sports Net's nightly news show.

His first night was Jan. 5, 1999. His last was July 5, 2000.

Oh, he's staying with the network. It's just that his duties have been reduced to one night. And the network finally found a producer he can work with--himself.

"I can now submit my resignation to myself," he quipped.

The Fox publicity machine was working overtime putting a positive spin on this story.

David Hill, the chairman of Fox Sports, was brought in Thursday to make the big announcement on a conference call, giving the impression Olbermann was being rewarded with his own show. It will be called, of course, "The Keith Olbermann Evening News," and will be on every Sunday night. It makes its debut Aug. 6.

So what's going on here?

Fox paid $1 million to MSNBC to buy out Olbermann's contract and gave him a salary reported to be in the $900,000 range. For this, he became the main anchor on its nightly sports news show. And now Fox is reducing its high-priced "superstar" to one night a week?

That makes a lot of sense.

About as much sense as bringing in out-of-town anchors to do a local Southern California sports show, which Fox Sports Net recently did for its new "Regional Sports Report."

Maybe the Olbermann move is a sign Fox Sports Net is realizing its "National Sports Report" will never catch ESPN's "SportsCenter." The latest Nielsen figures show that Fox Sports Net's two-hour news blocks average a .54 rating and ESPN's 11 o'clock edition of "SportsCenter" averages .82.

Hill, noting these ratings aren't something to get excited about, said, "At one point we wondered if it wouldn't be cheaper to just fly people in to watch the show live."

Hill did indicate the show made progress with Olbermann. So why cut Olbermann's duties? Besides his Sunday night show, he'll do Saturday pregame baseball on the Fox network. Is two days a week worth $900,000 a year? He's not a Dodger pitcher. Maybe Fox is cutting Olbermann's salary. One source said that was the case.

As for what's behind the move, it's no secret Olbermann is not well liked around the Fox Sports Net set. There are a million stories. One is he insisted a popcorn machine that provided a snack for the crew be removed because he didn't like the smell of popcorn.

He doesn't speak to colleague Chris Myers at all, and barely speaks to anyone else.

Now that he is the lone anchor and the executive producer of his new show, there won't be as many people to feud with. The question is, what's the over-under on when Olbermann will fire himself?

THE LOCAL SHOW

The homerism on "Regional Sports Report" continues to be annoying. Wednesday night, a highlight of the Angels' Scott Spiezio being thrown out at the plate in the ninth inning of the Texas Rangers' 3-2 victory indicated it was a bad call. Anchor Gaard Swanson, from Seattle, pretended to be angry. "That's going to bother me all night," he said.

Swanson and partner Barry LeBrock just don't seem to realize that in a major market not everyone roots for the home team.

Why wouldn't Fox Sports Net bring in a seasoned pro who knows the market? Probably because all Fox Sports Net thinks about is attracting males 18-34.

GOLF EVERYWHERE

The U.S. Golf Assn. has gotten flak for scheduling the U.S. Women's Open the same weekend as the British Open. It's asking viewers to watch an awful lot of golf. But this may be a better weekend than a year ago, when the Women's Open on NBC got killed going up against Tiger Woods winning the Memorial on ABC.

ESPN, resembling the Golf Channel, is covering the early rounds of both Opens through today. Earlier this week ESPN decided to expand its British Open coverage and start it at 5 a.m. instead of 6. That was a good move. A bad one is breaking into golf coverage for baseball scores.

SHORT WAVES

Sharing the spotlight with golf this weekend is the final weekend of the U.S. Olympic track and field trials. NBC is gearing everything toward Sunday's men's 200-meter final. Let's hope it doesn't give short shrift to other events. NBC seems to think viewers prefer packages to live competition, when, for most, that isn't the case. The men's pole vault and women's high jump competition last Sunday were reduced to tape packages. . . . Dwight Stones is showing that he is to track and field what Johnny Miller is to golf and John McEnroe is to tennis. Stones calls partner Tom Hammond "the best track announcer in the history of the sport." Other members of the crew are Carol Lewis, Marty Liquori, Lewis Johnson and reporter Jim Gray.

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