ESPN’s two-year experiment of becoming MSNBC has ended. The network has cancelled Olbermann. MSNBC, even when it appears on ESPN, apparently still does cable-access ratings.
— James Andrew Miller (@JimMiller) July 8, 2015
Olbermann’s second tenure on ESPN ran like a repeat of his stints on CurrentTVMSNBCFoxSportsNetCNN. He made an initial splash, engaged in a daily two-minutes hate of people on the opposite end of the political spectrum, eventually said something bizarre (calling Penn State “pitiful” in response to a charity drive for pediatric cancer), received a suspension, and, ultimately, alienated his bosses, who finally figured out that they like Keith Olbermann about as much as their viewers do.
To know Keith, isn’t to love Keith. But there’s always a network executive dying to get to know Keith despite Americans constantly kicking Keith out of their living rooms.
Like Marxism, Keith Olbermann has never really failed because Keith Olbermann has never really been tried. Forget CNN, MSNBC, Fox Sports Net, NBC, TBS, Current TV, CNN, and all the rest. It’s always the next network where the moralizing jester—surely a mayonnaise-and-ice-cream combination—becomes a ratings juggernaut.
Keith Olbermann failing in practice can’t kill the idea of Keith Olbermann. He’s a lot like his politics. If at first, or at tenth, you don’t succeed, try, try again. And then try again. And again. You’re not trying hard enough. Try harder, damnit. Because it’s not Keith Olbermann who flopped. The viewers failed.
If the executives lived in the communities where the viewers watch, Keith Olbermann returns for good to the pews from the pulpit of the Church of the Holy Idiot Box. Alas, they who broadcast from Manhattan broadcast for Manhattan. And perhaps the same can be said of a cable-TV campus in Bristol, Connecticut.
Fans watch ESPN to escape CNNFoxNewsMSNBC, not to watch a jock version of them. Bored with the same pastimes that excite everyone else, sports journalists tune out the games and harp on the bullying, the homophobia, the politically incorrect team nicknames. They gossip about players’ private lives and obsess over the crime blotter—anything to avoid talking about what happens on the field of play.
So,we get Tony Kornheiser comparing Arizona, contemplating a law protecting Christian bakers from conscription into baking gay wedding cakes, to Nazi Germany. We get Outside the Lines telling us one side of the football safety debate and Christina Kahrl policing our pronouns for Caitlyn Jenner. We get ESPN injecting itself into the presidential race by pulling out of an event at a Donald Trump golf course.
We don’t want to change the channel from sports. But ESPN keeps changing their channel from sports to politics. And they keep changing their mind on Keith Olbermann, too.
They’ll change their mind on him again, and we’ll change the channel, in a few years. And if then ESPN doesn’t want to bring back Keith Olbermann for yet another reunion tour, there’s always Rachel Maddow.