Wednesday, May 23
“It’s their business and their money, but to me it would be like Liz Taylor and Richard Burton getting back together again. The publicity and the presumed forgiveness would be so extraordinary. I think it would be a tremendous business decision on their part.”
That’s Keith Olbermann, sharp tongue without a microphone once more, talking about the possibility of his returning to ESPN, the cable sports network he helped inject into the pop-culture jugular in the mid-1990′s before a memorably fussy falling-out. Last week, Mr. Olbermann parted ways with the Fox Sports Network, his third employer in four years. Now that Mr. Olbermann’s big mouth is on the market again, what would be more tantalizing than returning to raise hell in Bristol, Conn.?
Ha! Those bridges are burned, Mr. Olbermann said–and the river, too. “My presumption would be that [ESPN] would not have me back were the building on fire and I the only possessor of a fire bucket in the world,” he said.
So what’s next? Right now, Mr. Olbermann’s image is of a prickly iconoclast with an outsized, Al Davis-like ego stewing in Santa Monica as he tries to figure out how it all went wrong–how an Ivy League guy like him managed to piss off so many suits that he went from co-anchoring ESPN’s SportsCenter to his own talk show on MSNBC to becoming the star of Fox’s fledgling sports network to … Al Gore-ville .
‘Tis image unfair, Mr. Olbermann protested. O.K., things aren’t great between him and ESPN (Mr. Olbermann compared the once-fruitful relationship to that of a “former husband and wife who really don’t get along and you don’t want them at the same party”), but he insisted that his parting with MNSBC was amicable (then-NBC news chief Andrew Lack asked him to stay, he said) and that the split with Fox was mutual (this is Fox’s version of events, too).
“I’m sitting here in calm amusement as I read how ‘[Fox] is just another example of how he couldn’t make it work at someplace else,’” Mr. Olbermann said.
As for finding work, don’t whimper for the big, bespectacled lug. Because Fox Sports opted to cut Mr. Olbermann loose before his contract ran out at the end of this year, he sounded perfectly content to kick back and enjoy a lazy summer on Rupert Murdoch’s dime.
“I get 30 weeks of paid vacation at ridiculously high prices,” Mr. Olbermann said happily, noting that he’s also collecting checks from a radio network that went out of business.
“And Brill’s damned Contentville is still paying me off, because they signed me to a contract and then went dark. So if I don’t do anything for the next 30 weeks and it is misinterpreted as some sort of sign I can’t get a job in the business, I would think that anybody who writes that should have a quick mental-health examination.”
So what happens when Mr. Olbermann gets restless? He said he’s received four offers since his break with Fox Sports became official on Tuesday, May 15: three of them national, one of them an entertainment-type project that he described as “kind of like You Bet Your Life , only without questions.” There was talk that Mr. Olbermann had been, at one point, intrigued about shuttling over to the Fox News Channel, and while he acknowledged that such a switch was now highly unlikely, he remained interested in the possibility of returning to a news-oriented format … somewhere.
What about joining National Edition , The New York Times ‘ long-in-the-planning news program that’s still marinating at PBS? How about National Edition with Keith Olbermann and Daljit Dhaliwal ?
“Anything that would get me next to her, I think I’d do,” said Mr. Olbermann.
But how about this: Let’s get Keith Olbermann and another voice with a baseball jones, NBC’s Bob Costas, in the booth for the Newark Bears to chronicle the bush-league sojourns of major-league exiles Jose Canseco, Lance Johnson, Jim Leyritz et al. And hey, Newark ain’t Bristol!
Tonight on Fox Sports , the New York Mets struggle for dignity against the Montreal Expos. [FSNY, 26, 7 p.m.]
Thursday, May 24
Next fall, when there are unruly, creaky gangs of septuagenarians hanging out on your street corner at night smoking pipes, swilling highballs and hassling passers-by, don’t blame us. Blame CBS, which decided last week to euthanize Dick Van Dyke’s Diagnosis Murder .
Admit it: Diagnosis Murder was one of those J.C. Penney shows. You know, the kind of show you couldn’t quite understand how anyone watched, a show that just kept plugging along even though you’d never met a single person who’d watched it. When you accidentally happened upon it, you just stared quizzically, as if stuck in a time warp: Is that a white-haired Dick Van Dyke in a doctor’s outfit talking to … Scott Baio ?
But Diagnosis Murder was a pretty good show. Really! Sure, it was stiffer than a pair of Dockers and straighter than a Jets banquet at the Park Avenue Country Club, but there was something marvelously unpretentious and clear-headed about it. In a puffed-up TV world, where ER considers itself worthy of letterboxing and glibcoms like Just Shoot Me are considered “hip,” an episode of DM felt as refreshingly honest and low-key as sipping a gimlet on your granny’s front porch.
“It was a throwback,” said Mark Solomon, a former executive consultant on Diagnosis Murder . “It was trying to capture the classic murder mysteries that were on television all the time.”
Mr. Solomon left Diagnosis Murder before this past season, though he did write one of the scripts for this year. But cast and crew members had seen the writing on the wall for some time, he said. The show was passed around the CBS schedule faster than a fat check at Shun Lee Palace, and Mr. Solomon said that Viacom had cut back DM ‘s per-episode budget, “That was really hard on the actors and everyone involved,” he said.
CBS hasn’t totally vaporized DM . The network enlisted Mr. Van Dyke & Co. to do three two-hour TV movies that will air next season. “Without a doubt, this network owes a great debt of gratitude to Dick Van Dyke and Diagnosis Murder ,” said CBS spokesperson Chris Ender. “The show has been the ultimate team player, willing to do battle on any night and in any time period.”
As for Mr. Van Dyke himself, his rep on the West Coast said the actor wasn’t doing interviews and planned to “disappear for a while.”
So you decide: Either Mr. Van Dyke’s on vacation, or he’s got a new series on the UPN. Meanwhile, catch a repeat of Diagnosis Murder on good old PAX. [WPXN, 31, 10 p.m.]
Friday, May 25
Last week, at Fox’s upfront presentation aboard the U.S.S. Intrepid , Fox grandly introduced something called the Fox Comedy Wheel for Wednesday nights next fall. Fox entertainment chief Gail Berman presented it as a cool idea. It’s not. The Fox Comedy Wheel is an interchanging rotation of repeat episodes of The Simpsons, That ’70s Show and Malcolm in the Middle . In other words, it’s the Fox Wheel of Old Crap . Fox should be the ballsy, out-of-the-box network it claims to be and retitle it thusly.
But God bless Fox: They are the only network that understands the comic genius of Eugene Levy, to whom they have bequeathed a midseason replacement sitcom, Greg the Bunny , in which Mr. Levy plays the host of a Captain Kangaroo -type kids’ show where the animal puppets are actually living creatures. If you don’t think this is funny, well, don’t come complaining to us in mid-December when you’re sick of Inside Schwartz.
Tonight on Fox, a late-night repeat of Barbra Streisand: Timeless . Talk about your comedy wheels. [WNYW, 5, 11:30 p.m.]
Saturday, May 26
The morning of his network’s upfront, CBS president Leslie Moonves was in usual charm ‘n’ bravado form at his annual bacon ‘n’ eggs hoedown for TV writers last Wednesday, May 16. “There’s nothing that scares me on the other networks,” Mr. Moonves proclaimed.
Right. And surely Jeff Zucker, Gail Berman and Stu Bloomberg are quaking in their boots about tonight’s double-dose of Walker, Texas Ranger . No wonder Mr. Moonves voted Chuck Norris off next fall’s island. [WCBS, 2, 8 p.m.]
Sunday, May 27
Tom Brokaw hosts the super-synergized documentary Pearl Harbor: Legacy of Attack . Well, if the early reviews are any indication, the movie Pearl Harbor ‘s legacy is Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! . [WNBC, 4, 9 p.m.]
Monday, May 28
Tonight, ABC broadcasts the World Music Awards . Finally, Ricky Martin, the Backstreet Boys, Christina Aguilera and Britney go bleached-head-to-bleached- head for the title of World’s Suckiest Music Act. [WABC, 7, 9 p.m.]
Tuesday, May 29
HBO has Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted tonight. Grab a sibling and a Bowie knife and get cozy. [HBO, 32, 8 p.m.]