Jul. 16, 2015
ESPN's Replacement(s) For 'Olbermann'
With veteran sportscaster Keith Olbermann set to part ways with ESPN later this month, where could the network go to replace the controversial commentator?
Written by Jake Elman
Eras will always end, that much is for sure, but an era finding a way to end twice? If that happens, mistakes have either been made or the people running the operation were optimistic things would be different.
Well, that's exactly what happened in Bristol this month. For the second time since 1997, ESPN has said goodbye to veteran sportscaster Keith Olbermann, though this time seems to be a bit more civil. Last week, announcing that Olbermann, who has been with the network since 2013, will be parting ways with the network later this month.
“Keith is a tremendous talent who has consistently done timely, entertaining and thought-provoking work since returning to ESPN. While the show’s content was distinctive and extremely high quality, we ultimately made a business decision to move in another direction. We wish Keith nothing but the best and trust that his skill and ability will lead him to another promising endeavor.”
Over the past few years, Olbermann has been hosting his own, self-titled show that talked about everything from sports to what found a way to annoy the veteran commentator. Though the show wasn't always perfect, Olbermann was a different way of exploring the sports world than what ESPN has been successfully using in other places on the network; there was no screaming with enough intensity that made you want to mute the channel, no ESPN agenda that the show was forced to follow.
But, will no longer be a staple of the afternoon-lineup -- a spot where he was moved to in September following the late-night shift -- on ESPN2, clearing the way for someone, or something, to take his place and .
At this time, I've found four possible, realistic, options as to how the Worldwide Leader can successfully replace 'Olbermann' and its place in the 'happy hour' spot on ESPN2 with something that people will still watch. Obviously, this list won't be including 're-runs' and mini SportsCenter shows, even though there are people that would tune in to see a 'Best of First Take' featuring nothing but Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless screaming at one another when agreeing on the same thing...
1. Use the space for a single-sport-focused highlight show
We start this list off with an option I'm sure many people didn't consider, and that's just using the half-hour spot to talk about a certain sport, maybe even with live look-ins. During the summertime, for example, would it really hurt ESPN to go with a half-hour edition of Baseball Tonight if there are a couple games going on? What about a variation of NFL Matchup in the fall? If ESPN were to hypothetically air Baseball Tonight during this time, they'd benefit from not going up against MLB Network's aptly-titled MLB Tonight, which starts at 6 PM on the East Coast.
2. Give an ESPN employee(s) their own show
This is the one I'm sure most people want to see, and for good reason: a new show means the potential for the next big thing, whether it's an editorial-style like 'Olbermann' or a debate-style show in the manner of First Take. At the same time, though, this show would need to be something with enough of an interesting premise to draw people away from Around The Horn, Pardon The Interruption, and other programs at the same time. I've been saying this for a while now, but I'd have to think that ESPN New York's Ryan Ruocco would definitely be a great candidate to host his own show if given the opportunity. Currently a co-host of 'Rothenberg and Ruocco' and an unofficial co-host of The Michael Kay Show, Ruocco would bring a young, fresh take to ESPN that may be good for bringing in younger, teenage viewers that otherwise may have found something else to watch. If not Ruocco, maybe Ryan Russillo, the aforementioned Dave Rothenberg, or Robin Lundberg could all be suitable candidates for their own show, as could a veteran like Mike Lupica.
3. Get into the daily fantasy sports game
Though this one really could be titled 2B, the idea for a show dedicated to DFS is one that deserves its own subsection. Right now, it's no secret that daily fantasy sports games are hot, with DraftKings and FanDuel each attracting more and more players each day (even if DraftKings ads may be a bit 'chilidsh', though they're reportedly working to change that) that are using resources like televison and the internet to find out who to select for that night's games. While a DFS show may be somewhat redundant for football because of Fantasy Football Now and NFL Countdown, I definitely think one that focuses on the sports going on that night would be an interesting addition; it may sound like it'd be too much, but a show hosted by two young people that look like the DFS type that, for example, may talk about basketball and hockey in March while devoting the bulk of their show to baseball come July.
4. Air highlights of an ESPN show from earlier in the day
Admittedly, this is something I probably wouldn't want to watch, but this may be the best -- and most realistic -- decision for ESPN to do while weighing their options. Whether it's airing highlights from Mike & Mike or Colin Cowherd's simulcast, I'm sure there's a way for a producer to take the simulcast, find the best moments (maybe an interesting interview with an NFL star, or a heated discussion over Hall of Fame voting), and go from there to build a half hour program based around that.
From a viewer's perspective, I can't say I'd mind either getting a completely new show with a completely new anchor/host or a program dedicated solely to daily fantasy sports. If the show is good and doesn't have the full ESPN agenda of not being able to criticize people like Roger Goodell, then I probably won't care too much if either of my preferred options don't happen.
Unfortunately, ESPN is making a mistake by getting rid of Olbermann, but if the network can find a show to completely blow us out of the water and give us good, insightful content with a bit of fun mixed in there, then the loss of the previous editorial program will be softened.
What do you think of ESPN getting rid of Kieth Olbermann and his daily show? What do you want to replace Olbermann with on ESPN2, and who would you have on it? Make sure to chime in on the conversation by tweeting me at