SECAUCUS, N.J. - The cable news industry was rocked by the news today that MSNBC has retained the services of top anchorman Keith Olbermann by agreeing to renew his contract at a record $5 million for another three years--and to hire his old ESPN SportsCenter co-anchor Dan Patrick.
MSNBC general manager Dan Abrams said he was pleased that the network was able to reach such a satisfactory agreement with "our biggest talent" and that Patrick will replace Chris Matthews as Olbermann's co-anchor on future political coverage, including the 2008 presidential campaign.
"We're delighted to be able to keep Keith in our stable," said Abrams, "especially now that we have also signed Dan Patrick. Our plan is to recreate that great Olbermann-Patrick chemistry that people recall so fondly from their days together on SportsCenter."
Patrick, whose contract terms were undisclosed, said the time was right for him to enter a new broadcasting phase. "I quit doing SportsCenter a while back because, like Keith in 1997, I was ready to move on," he said. "At first I wasn't sure quite where, but soon I realized from doing an hour of my ESPN Radio show with him daily that what I really missed was working with K.O. Now I have the chance to do that on TV again. I'm looking forward to it. So long as there's room over at MSNBC for both me and Keith's ego, we'll do fine."
Olbermann said he made the hiring of Patrick a condition of his contract renewal because he too missed working with "my old tag-team partner."
"I can't wait for Dan to join us," he said. "I'm sure he'll love working for MSNBC, only making the commercials won't be quite as much fun."
Abrams said that while previous pairings of Olbermann with Hardball host Chris Matthews on Election Night 2006 and the State of the Union Message were satisfactory, "they lacked that special spark. Chris said they were like Huntley and Brinkley, but I thought they were more like Goofus and Gallant myself."
Abrams outlined plans for MSNBC to cover future special political events "in much the same way SportsCenter covers highlights of games," including plenty of "classic Dan-and-Keith ESPN-style banter."
"From now on," Abrams said, "it won't be 'Bush's speech fell flat,' it'll be 'Bush's speech failed to put the biscuit in the basket.'" Or Keith will say, 'That State of the Union address wasn't deep, and I think it's very playable.' Or on election night: 'Our final score of Congressional seats for tonight is Democrats - 231, Republicans - just watching.'"
Patrick said that while he seldom tuned in to MSNBC prior to the contract negotiations - "except for my favorite, Rita Cosby, who I miss seeing regularly" - he believes he has a great deal to add to the network. "For one thing, I'm sure I'll be better able to handle all of Olbermann's stupid Millard Fillmore-type references," he said. "Matthews gets annoyed with Keith for being such a know-it-all, but he tries not to let it show. I, on the other hand, when I hear K.O. comparing this election to some boring story I fell asleep listening to in ninth-grade history class about the Whigs vs. the Free Soilers back in eighteenwhenever, will just tell him, 'Will you please shut up?'"
Hearing what Patrick had to say, Olbermann shook his head and said, "Dan, Dan, Dan. He just can't get over the fact that I made this leap before he did, can he? He just can't stand it that I'm saving the democracy, can he? Dan, two words: Bob Costas. Two more words: Sports Emmys. There. I have nothing more to say on this subject that is either relevant or true."
Patrick added that he planned to bring some of his own classic catch phrases to add to those Keith has already brought to his MSNBC work. "If I think Barack Obama is 'en fuego' or John McCain is 'gooooone,' I'll say it," he said. "And if I truly believe that you can't stop Hillary Clinton, you can only hope to contain her, it just makes sense for me to say so."
The first Olbermann-Patrick pairings won't take place until primaries begin, but Abrams said MSNBC was required to "lock Patrick in early" in order to ensure Olbermann's re-signing. "We'll be referring to the primaries as 'the playoffs' from now on," he added, "and the party conventions as the 'Democrat and Republican Party Championship Title Games.' Dan probably won't find trips to New Hampshire and Iowa half as much fun as going to Miami during Super Bowl Week, but that's the breaks."
Patrick said he didn't mind. "Spoiled, overpaid players who only work a few days a week; sore losers; scandals; loose morals; big egos," he laughed. "What's the difference between sports and politics again? Now I see why it was so easy for Keith to make the switch."
"The tough part will be having to spend time in Washington with Olbermann," he sighed. "K.O. will be wandering all over the city with me saying 'Look at this historical monument' and trying to fill my head with some stupid piece of trivia. Meanwhile, I just wanna get back to the hotel and catch the Lakers."
Matthews expressed disappointment with MSNBC's decision. "Ever since this network started hitching its wagon to Olbermann it's been misery for me," he said. "What was wrong with me being their political go-to guy? I knew how to talk to superstars like Schwarzenegger and Giuliani, for Pete's sake! They think someone's gonna do better than me because he had a cameo in The Benchwarmers? Please. Do they have a guy doing impressions of Dan Patrick on Saturday Night Live? I rest my case."
Olbermann said the deal pleased him immensely. "I've got five million new reasons to live," he enthused to a reporter. "I understand that when a certain other cable news anchor heard about it, his hair literally turned white. No, wait--it was white already. Ha."
Anderson Cooper could not be reached for comment.