The rumors, reportedly, are true. Keith Olbermann is returning to ESPN, the network where he became a celebrity co-hosting SportsCenter from 1992 to 1997. This time around, according to the New York Times, Olbermann will host a “one-hour, nightly show for ESPN2.” The move coincides with Fox’s Aug. 17 launch of Fox Sports 1, a potential rival that, as the Times puts it, “just announced plans for a potentially similar series to star Regis Philbin.” (Our guess is Olbermann could do a solid five-minute rant on that comparison.) Olbermann left ESPN on famously acrimonious terms. “He didn’t burn bridges here. He napalmed them,” a network executive said in 2005.
Mending bridges with Olbermann is a canny move by ESPN (DIS). It steals media attention from Fox’s (NWS) launch and gives viewers novelty just as they might be tempted to wander. In May, Fox Sports 1 grabbed the Sports Network’s Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole, basically the Canadian versions of Olbermann and Dan Patrick. Now ESPN is bringing back the original. Even if the reunion blows up, as it almost certainly will sooner or later, people will watch. The Times says Olbermann will be free to discuss “pop culture and current events, but not politics,” as he did for eight years on MSNBC. It’s a perfect setup. Welcome back, Mr. Olbermann. Whatever you do, don’t touch this red button.