Originally created 06/19/97

Olbermann leaving ESPN



HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Turns out Keith Olbermann's wisecrack about the town of Bristol wasn't really a joke, after all.

The ESPN anchor, who last month was temporarily ordered off the "SportsCenter" show, is leaving the cable network for good at the end of the month, mainly because he wants to live in New York City.

Olbermann, 38, who brought a witty and sarcastic edge to the popular "SportsCenter" program during his 51/2 -year stay with the network, will make his final appearance June 29, his agent and ESPN officials said Wednesday.

His departure, which will come six months before his contract expires, was described by both sides as regrettable but amicable.

One of the key issues that could not be resolved after months of negotiations was Olbermann's desire to live in New York, which is a good two-hour drive from ESPN's headquarters in Bristol.

"We talked about several ways to get Keith to New York," said Jean Sage, his agent. "We tried to work out something that would be on a part-time basis so he could stay (at ESPN). We were not able to put together that deal."

ESPN officials said they understand Olbermann's desire to live in a larger metropolitan area, considering he is single and does not drive. But they are disappointed the geography issue could not be reconciled.

"It's terrible and a bitter disappointment to be losing him," said Howard Katz, the network's executive vice president of production. "He's an enormous talent. His contributions to ESPN and SportsCenter were exceptional."

Olbermann had lampooned the town of Bristol during an appearance two months ago on "The Daily Show" a Comedy Central program hosted by former ESPN anchor Craig Kilborn.

At the end of the show, Kilborn asked his guest to name the "most God-forsaken place" in the East. Olbermann's response was "Bristol, Connecticut."

After the unauthorized appearance on the show, Olbermann was suspended with pay for two weeks. At the time, ESPN officials said they were taking the action for a number of reasons.

On Wednesday, both sides said the Comedy Central flap was overblown, probably because it happened during several months of negotiations dealing with many issues.

"When you're trying to come to terms and do a deal, tempers flare," Sage said. "My temper flared. It was a misunderstanding. ... In hindsight it was probably the best possible scenario to give us all time to cool off."

Olbermann has worked mostly with Dan Patrick on the primary "SportsCenter" telecasts, and ESPN acknowledges it will be hard to replace the chemistry the two shared.

"They were brilliant together," Katz said. "We're losing one of the best anchors we had on SportsCenter. We lose his wit, his style. ... We're really disappointed."

Fox Sports and Court TV are among those now said to be interested in hiring Olbermann.

Sage said Olbermann wants to take some time off. She did not rule out Court TV, noting Olbermann is a good friend of the show's producer, Eric Sorenson.

"At this point it's open," Sage said. "Where is the best deal? What makes the best sense for his next step in life?"

For now, Olbermann is preparing to move from Southington, the town that borders Bristol to the west.

"Keith really wants to live in New York," Sage said.