Critics say Olbermann delivered a solid show – from an odd position
Keith Olbermann has been chastised for feuding with bosses in the past.
The issue with his new show, critics say, is whether he'll feud with his new bosses enough.
"Olbermann," which debuted Monday, marked the host's full-time return to a network he left in a huff in 1997. Since then, he's parted ways with Fox Sports, MSNBC (twice) and Current TV. Now at ESPN2, he's ready to take on shoddy sports journalism – except that he works for the most powerful sports media organization.
SB Nation's Steve Lepore noted that at the start of his show, Olbermann showed why "everyone on the planet will swear to his talent." Rather than revisit his awkward past with ESPN, Olbermann began with an amusingly understated "as I was saying," as if he had never left.
But Lepore noted: "A lot of people have wondered whether or not it's right for Keith to carve up the media without going after ESPN. Probably not, but for television purposes, it's most likely better that he doesn't.
While there are certainly a number of ESPN-affiliated media members worthy of scorn from time to time, this show will become unwatchable and uncomfortable if it just becomes Keith vs. [ESPN person]. For better or worse, the monologue portion of the show is Keith vs. The Media, with ESPN sitting in the corner as a conscientious objector."
Time's Jack Dickey said Olbermann has always "used his unique-on-TV wit to shred cable news’s witless babble." He said Olbermann's opening segment proved he would do the same thing for TV sports coverage – except maybe at his new network.
"It’s hard to talk about what’s wrong with sports, especially in sports media, without fingering ESPN in some way," Dickey said.
Deadspin's Timothy Burke suggested that if you listened between the lines, Olbermann actually was criticizing ESPN in a talk with Jason Whitlock about "the practice of media members creating, rather than reporting, stories."
"The entire conversation, to us, seemed a commentary on ESPN journalism practices, even if they couldn't actually say that."
The Big Lead's Jason McIntyre was also pretty sure that Olbermann was, in fact, critical of ESPN.
"If you listen really closely… you might recognize the message he’s subtly sending you," McIntyre said. "He was talking about ESPN, dropping bread crumbs throughout the show, leading you right to the recent PBS fiasco without actually mentioning it."
That fiasco was ESPN's decision to bail out on an investigation of football concussions by PBS's "Frontline." Critics said ESPN was afraid of angering its business partner, the NFL.
National Review's Andrew Johnson, meanwhile, noted that Olbermann made it less than a minute before brining politics into his show. The New York Times reported that ESPN had banned Olbermann from talking politics, which Olbermann denied to TheWrap.
Olbermann agreed with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie that a reporter who called for Jets coach Rex Ryan to be fired was "an idiot." He also volunteered that Christie "could be president."