ESPN prodigal son Keith Olbermann made his return to the four-letter network last night, premiering his eponymous hour-long ESPN2 program while calling up a number of golden-age SportsCenter memories. Here are the highlights.
The show opened with a lengthy discussion of Rex Ryan, Mark Sanchez, and ridiculous claims that the Jets coach ought to be fired. The conversation continued with guest (and fellow ESPN re-hire) Jason Whitlock, in case anyone watching had a shred of reality-disconnect remaining. Their debate over the practice of media members creating, rather than reporting, stories led many observers to point out hypocrisy in light of ESPN itself doing exactly that. But we read it differently; are we really to expect notorious curmudgeons like Olbermann and Whitlock to not notice the irony? The entire conversation, to us, seemed a commentary on ESPN journalism practices, even if they couldn't actually say that.
And they don't need to. Olbermann's shows—including his previous ones on Current and MSNBC—have always expected viewers to read between the lines. They're not for the uninformed or those who need to be spoonfed, and that's what makes it so interesting he chose to return to Bristol (or that small part of Bristol that overlooks Times Square) in the first place. If you were expecting Olbermann to directly criticize his employer on the first show, you might have been asking a bit much. But if you're willing to listen critically, we're betting he has plenty to say about the WWL's journalism practices.
Even if you're not willing to do that—and let's face it, that takes effort and nobody wants to work hard at watching TV at 11 p.m.—Olbermann's got plenty of sports highlights for you. We're loath to project great things based on one show, but from what we saw last night it looks like he hasn't lost a step. That's a good thing, especially if you compare it to what was airing on the competition at the time: