Olbermann, Espn To Part Ways June 29

Posted: June 19, 1997

Keith Olbermann is outta here at ESPN.

In what ESPN officials and Olbermann's agent yesterday described as an amicable parting, Olbermann will do his last ``SportsCenter'' show on June 29.

ESPN is allowing the popular Olbermann to pursue other opportunities six months before his contract expires.

John A. Walsh, ESPN's executive editor, said the key issue is ``geography.'' Olbermann wants to live in New York. ESPN's headquarters is in Bristol, Conn., 20 miles west of Hartford.

``There were a series of proposals and counterproposals,'' Walsh said. ``But Keith's desire to live in New York became so huge that we couldn't reach any kind of agreement.''

In April, Olbermann, 38, was given a two-week paid pause to ponder his future after an unauthorized appearance on a Comedy Central show in which he joked that Bristol was the ``most Godforsaken place'' in the East. Asked yesterday if the irreverent Olbermann has been difficult to work with lately, Walsh replied, ``When people are talking about their future, the workplace can be a little bit of a strain.''

Walsh stressed that he wishes Olbermann would remain at ESPN.

``I thought what Keith and Dan Patrick created on `SportsCenter' was magic,'' Walsh said. ``But we realize that people reach certain points where they are interested in different goals.''

Olbermann's agent, Jean Sage, said ``tempers flared'' during negotiations to find a way for Olbermann to stay at ESPN. ``When you're trying to resolve issues,'' she said, ``things get acrimonious.''

Capturing what Olbermann's loss means to ESPN, Howard Katz, the network's executive vice president of production, said: ``It's terrible and a bitter disappointment. He's an enormous talent. His contributions to ESPN and `SportsCenter' were exceptional.''

If Walsh could change roles and be Olbermann's agent, the career advice he would offer Olbermann would be to ``think a little longer and figure out a way'' to stay at ESPN. Olbermann has been with the sport network for 5 1/2 years.

One option for Olbermann to continue at ESPN was for him to host ``SportsCenter'' one night a week. However, Walsh said that plan was spiked because it would establish ``precedent-setting scheduling difficulties.''

Fox Sports is said to be one possible destination for Olbermann, although yesterday a Fox spokesman said he wasn't aware of any serious negotiations.

A curious possibility is Court TV. Olbermann and the show's producer, Eric Sorenson, are friends. What's Olbermann going to do, make wise remarks when someone is found guilty and sentenced to the electric chair?

Sage said Olbermann wants to take some time off.

``There's interest in many areas,'' she said. ``At this point, it's open. Where's the best deal? What makes the best sense for his next step in life?''

One reason Olbermann wants to live in New York is, he doesn't drive a car. Olbermann recently told the Daily News ESPN provides a car service for his transportation from his home in Southington, Conn., to work. He depends on taxis or friends to go shopping.

When he worked for United Press International radio in 1980, he covered New York Mets games. One night, Olbermann successfully rushed to catch a train. He celebrated by leaping and bumped his head. Ever since, his depth perception has been damaged.

Ah, so that explains his sometimes bizarre approach to sports.

``No, I'm afraid I was this way long before I hit my head,'' he said.

For a while, Walsh said the seat next to Patrick on ``SportsCenter'' probably will be occupied on a rotating basis. Walsh said Patrick has three years remaining on his contract.

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