Keith Olbermann will return to ESPN Aug. 26 after a 16-year hiatus with "Olbermann," an hourlong show that will air at 11 p.m. on ESPN2. But he said Wednesday that beyond the program's particulars, his motivation was to alter the narrative of his messy departure from the network in 1997.
"I don't want that to be in the obituary," he said. "I don't want that to be the end of the story."
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ESPN president John Skipper said he had to speak to longtime employees about Olbermann's return, but that in the end he decided he could not resist "a singular talent."
Olbermann, 54, has a history of workplace clashes and indelicate separations, but he made it clear he feels a special bond with ESPN, where he rose to stardom from 1992-97, on "SportsCenter."
Since leaving he has had a variety of sports and non-sports jobs in media, notably as host of MSNBC's "Countdown," a political show that leaned far to the left.
Skipper and Olbermann said that while there is no contractual prohibition against political talk on the new show, the idea is for all of its content to flow from sports issues. "I don't intend to be political," Olbermann said.
Details have not yet been fleshed out, but the plan is discussion, commentary, interviews and highlights pegged to sports news of the day. The hope is live-event lead-ins such as the U.S. tennis Open that begins Aug. 26 will deliver audiences in the crowded late-night arena.
Olbermann will miss some nights while hosting TBS' studio show during the baseball playoffs. The ESPN2 program will originate from ABC's Times Square studios.
"We are indelibly intertwined," he said of ESPN. "I know we can't go back and undo everything that happened 20 years ago, but I would like to do my best to correct as much of it as I can."