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Sat July 27, 2013

Keith Olbermann Talks Sports, ESPN, And The Secret Identity Anthony Weiner Stole

Originally published on Thu July 25, 2013 8:07 am

"Carlos ... Danger," says Keith Olbermann with utter awe, and arcs his hand across his field of vision.

It's the first day of press tour, and he's here to talk about his new ESPN show Olbermann, which we're told had its first rehearsal just the night before. When he was introduced, the ESPN representative reminded us that of course, there's limited time for this session, and of course, that means we should limit our questions to the new show. We can all hear what they do not say: Don't ask about his previous contentious relationship with ESPN, don't ask about his previous contentious relationship with MSNBC, don't ask about his previous contentious relationship with Current, and oh — don't ask about politics.

And we've listened — sort of. He's been asked about reports that he's not allowed to talk about politics on the new show, which he tells us isn't true. He also tells us he's not going to talk about politics on the new show, because it's a sports show. There might be exceptions "if Barack Obama runs onto the field during the All-Star game — we will have to talk about the ramifications of that during the game and perhaps for his political future." But in general, it's a sports show, which he says is a relief.

He did get a question about his history of "legendary" departures, but he spun it back to positive comments about returning to ESPN. Not without the occasional Olbermann-esque dig, of course. Despite his battles with ESPN during his first tenure there and his tension with people who didn't agree with him, he says, "The places I went to thereafter made ESPN, in retrospect, look like, you know, a 'let's applaud Keith' session for five years."

But then, someone asks him what he thinks about Anthony Weiner, now facing pressure to drop out of the New York City mayoral race after revealing that he sent (some more) sexually explicit photos of himself, using a pseudonym. And it's that pseudonym that Olbermann, like so many others, goes to first. "Well, I think that he stole a great fake hotel sign-in name that I would have liked to have used." Ultimately, his answer is tentative — it actually has "study the issues" in it — but boy, he loves that name. He thinks it's amazing, hilarious, so great he can hardly stop saying it. So great he vows it's going to be in the new show one way or another, even if they have to wedge it in by saying a player named Carlos presents a "Carlos danger" to a team.

"Carlos ... Danger."

Whatever his intentions are about talking about politics, part of what has changed about Olbermann since his first run at ESPN, perhaps, is how animated he becomes when given the opportunity to quotably riff at length on something he finds chewy and satisfying. At SportsCenter, what distinguished him was the way he and Dan Patrick were such impeccable masters of ceremonies, sitting back and making everything that surrounded the meat of the project (the highlights) so distinctive.

But now, he's been the show, and he's still going to be the show — you can tell by the way he's sitting around with his name literally in lights. His mouth is saying "Carlos Danger," but the set says, over and over, in enormous letters, "OLBERMANN." Whether or not he won't talk politics, there is a way in which a great story animates him such that he seems unable to help himself. Likely, that will be both the blessing and the curse of the new show.

But he's still a sports guy. The last question of the session is about what, in sports, he obsesses about — what can he have three-hour conversations about that most people wouldn't devote that much time to? "Do those include three hour conversations in which I'm the only one talking or listening?" He goes on to say he loves 19th century baseball. Pre-NHL hockey. And, always, fantasy baseball. "Fantasy baseball is a subject that I could — I could melt this room." And then, he starts to go, because he can't not. "I mean, you would all retire and actually make the correct choice to flee. The door — you are not locked in here. You can get out. You just follow each other's Twitter accounts and write your stories off of that. Who the hell is going to know? Save yourselves while there is still an opportunity."

They don't really say, and perhaps they don't even really know, what the new show will look like, and it's anybody's guess where politics will or won't sneak in. Wouldn't he just have said the Carlos Danger thing? Wouldn't he have been unable not to, even though it's not sports?

"Carlos ... Danger."

He seems glad to be back.

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