Last week I saw Pat O’Brien at a Lakers game at Staples Center and I got to wondering how he is salvaging the smoldering wreckage that is his media career.
I grew up watching O’Brien on CBS, hosting tennis broadcasts and various studio shows. Back then, I used to think he brought a certain panache to sports broadcasts. Then again, I was about seven at the time, so it’s safe to say my sense of style wasn’t yet fully developed.
With his celeb gossip career in ashes, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that O’Brien might now look to get back into sports. And from what I recently learned, my hunch could be correct.
A source recently revealed that O’Brien may be under consideration for an on-air position at ESPN Radio. I have no more details than that. These sorts of things can sometimes be agent propaganda, but from what I gathered from my source, that isn’t the case here.
From a sports broadcast perspective, an O’Brien hire would make perfect sense for ESPN. But of course, based on numerous, ugly off-air indiscretions by the former “Insider” host, ESPN bringing him on would be a considerable risk to the network.
But there is precedence in ESPN taking chances on guys with checkered pasts, like Michael Irvin, who was later let go. Though I’m not aware that Irvin’s departure was anything more than performance related. Then again, if that’s the case, how is Emmitt Smith still drawing Disney-signed checks?
ESPN also recently went through the unceremonious departure of Harold Reynolds, who was accused by an ESPN employee of sexual harassment. Reynolds disputed the termination and later settled with the net out of court.
And there have been others who have come under off-air scrutiny at ESPN in the past few years, so you would think that would make the Bristol-based execs much less likely to take a chance on a guy like O’Brien.
But if O’Brien has indeed cleaned up his act, I see no reason why the guy shouldn’t be given one last shot in the media biz, especially considering he didn’t seem to have those issues during a long, previous tenure at CBS. (Then again that was before the evil, all-knowing eye that is the internet.)
UPDATE: ESPN Media Relations Director Josh Krulewitz responds to SbB about the prospect of ESPN hiring O’Brien. “Our radio content is both national and local as we (ESPN) own five radio stations including one in Los Angeles. There have been no discussions about considering him (O’Brien) for a job.”
Speaking of Los Angeles, I’ve since heard that O’Brien may have specific interest in an on-air position with the aforementioned ESPN-owned L.A. radio station, KSPN-AM. I’m also hearing that an official at that station may have been contacted by an O’Brien representative about the prospect of O’Brien hosting a show on the station.
Probably not coincidentally, KSPN has been long-rumored to be changing personnel on its afternoon drive show. The station recently hired a new general manager, Chris Berry, which probably means the new afternoon show will now be in place sooner than later. Whether O’Brien is in the mix for that show remains to be seen.
And there’s always the chance that the current hosts, Brian Long and Dave Denholm, will be given the opportunity to host the PM Drive show permanently.
More likely, I think ESPN officials will try to make a big splash in an afternoon time slot that has been struggling in the ratings. Bringing in O’Brien to host that show would certainly do just that, at least initially. But would ESPN take that chance? NBC did it with Marv Albert, so you have to believe that if ESPN doesn’t hire O’Brien, someone else will soon enough.
I think there’s a small chance ESPN will give O’Brien a shot. But also keep your eye on the Chicago-based Content Factory, which syndicates Dan Patrick’s radio show. Old O’Brien acquaintance Tony Bruno also now has a night show with that national syndicator, and it wouldn’t shock me at all to see O’Brien end up co-hosting with Bruno or doing his own show there.