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Olbermann still looking for niche

By SHARON GINN

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 18, 2001


For the third time in four years, anchor Keith Olbermann has departed a high-profile network job -- and it's unclear when he'll be on television again.

Olbermann doesn't appear to have immediate plans, and it would seem he is running out of networks. The former ESPN anchor and MSNBC host left Fox Sports this week after what has been called a "mutual decision" by both parties.

Olbermann, who hosted and produced his show on Sunday nights on Fox Sports Net, was set to reprise his role as Fox's studio host when the network begins baseball coverage next month, continuing through the World Series.

But his contract was due to expire later this year, and he and Fox could not reach a new agreement. Olbermann agreed to a large pay cut last year when he went from working four to five nights a week as lead anchor of FSN's National Sports Report to working only one night a week on Keith Olbermann Evening News. Ratings for the Evening News averaged about a 0.30.

For baseball, Fox is expected to replace Olbermann with two co-hosts, Jeanne Zelasko and Kevin Kennedy. Zelasko, who has won fans at Fox for her work as NASCAR's pit reporter, would become the first woman to fill such a role on a network.

While Olbermann is one of the wittiest and most interesting broadcasters in sports, he seemingly is having trouble finding a niche that suits him and his employer. (A Times editor suggests he'd be a perfect replacement for 60 Minutes' Andy Rooney -- he'd work once a week, could be as sarcastic as he wants and would have time to write books.)

Let's hope Olbermann isn't unemployed for long. If someone -- CNN perhaps? -- can give him the right forum and work within his parameters, the viewers would ultimately be the winners.

CAUGHT ON TAPE: When Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki had one of his front teeth knocked out by the elbow of Spurs guard Terry Porter on Saturday, NBC's cameras captured the moment. Analyst Doug Collins used the telestrator to show Nowitzki's tooth flying out of his mouth. Later, after Nowitzki's jump shot put the Mavericks up 105-99 with 2:20 left, Collins quipped: "He lost a tooth, but he's still got a little bite left in his game."

NOW THAT'S CREEPY: NASCAR traditionally takes Mother's Day off, but Fox couldn't let a weekend go by without a little racing action. In one of the more shameless self-promotions of the TV season, the first segment of Sunday's X-Files had Agent Doggett not only watching "NASCAR on Fox" -- complete with prominent logo -- but (gak) briefly discussing it with ex-Agent Mulder.

Then again, maybe Fox was trying to steer the loyal NASCAR fans to its aging drama, not the other way around. On FX, NASCAR clearly trumps X-Files repeats, once the cable network's calling card. FX's May 5 broadcast of the Pontiac Excitement 400, its first Winston Cup race, had the best viewership of any program in its seven-year history.

FINE TUNING: Sure, Ch. 10's viewers got to see a rare 7-0 victory by the Devil Rays on Sunday. But they also missed a Tiger Woods rally that gave him a tie for third place at the Byron Nelson Classic. Woods, who shot 63, already was done for the day when the game ended and Ch. 10 switched to CBS' golf coverage. . . . Time Warner Cable will televise the Class 6A baseball final on tape delay if Seminole High, ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today, wins today's semifinal. The game will air at 9 p.m. Sunday on Time Warner's local origination channel (Ch. 47) in Pinellas County. Repeats will be at 9 p.m. Wednesday, at 10 p.m. May 25 and at 9 p.m. May 26.

- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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