Olbermann was there alongside Dan Patrick, his former co-host of ESPN’s SportsCenter, to mark the twentieth anniversary of “The Big Show,” as it was often called. They were joined by moderator James Miller, co-author of Those Guys have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN. The far-ranging discussion covered their time from ESPN to the present, including vintage video clips and highlights from the broadcast.
In his introduction, Miller joked, “The timing for tonight’s event couldn’t be better since Keith has been out of the news for such a long time. Dan and I are hoping to put his name back in the papers.” Still, given all the recent media attention, Olbermann didn’t upstage Patrick. In fact, in response to an audience question regarding whether he arrived at the event using a car service (a reference to one of his issues with Current TV), he replied, “So as not to overwhelm this event I’ll only take one question regarding Current TV. I took the subway here and later I’ll walk home, muttering at myself.”
Regarding Olbermann’s switch from ESPN to ESPN2, he commented, “I accepted management’s request, and as my recent employment experience shows, I am easily led. I said yes because I was a team player and I did it because management asked me to. I’ll never do that again. Do not try this at home, expecting an audience to move from one TV network or channel to another.”
Interestingly, some of Olbermann’s experiences in the early days at ESPN reflect similar issues he found at Current TV, namely technical difficulties. “At ESPN2 they built a state-of-the-art studio, but there were problems with the backlighting and the air conditioning. They finally had to bring air conditioning repairmen in the middle of winter to fix it.”
The rest of the discussion had a markedly nostalgic feel as the two reminisced about simpler, happier times. As Olbermann observed, “ESPN was comic relief. We clearly had fun on that show, and it was joyous. We took the work seriously, but we had fun and did not take the broadcast seriously. We were two kids trying to make each other laugh, and that was the whole gist of it.”
Regarding their respective departures from ESPN, Olbermann actually sounded more positive about the split. “There was no tipping point, but I knew that because of where it was located [Bristol, CT] that I would not be there forever,” said Olbermann. “I am at peace with them and there is no war with them now.”
“I was loyal to ESPN for 18 years but it wasn’t reciprocated,” said Patrick. “At the end they gave me a take-it-or-leave-it offer. They did not respect us when we were there and we were interchangeable parts. I compete with them now.”
One of the most memorable points of the evening was the discussion of the strong bond between Olbermann and Patrick. “When people ask me years later, ‘How did I put up with Keith?’ He’s the best teammate I ever had,” Patrick said. Still, there were marked contrasts between them. “I never got used to being fired in jobs,” Patrick joked.
[Bottom image: Nancy Lazarus]