X's and a Lot of O's: Media Giants Seek Kornheiser

By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 2, 2006

All of a sudden, the hottest, most sought-after franchise player in the sports world may be a guy who describes himself as "fat, bald and old."

Tony Kornheiser, the Washington Post columnist and ESPN yakker, has become the object of a bidding war among media companies, with deals worth millions of dollars -- and the lineups of newspapers, TV and radio stations -- hanging in the balance.

The list of Kornheiser's suitors includes ESPN, XM and Sirius radio, Bonneville International Corp., The Washington Post and Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, who wants Kornheiser as a host for his newly purchased string of radio stations.

Kornheiser, suddenly the prettiest girl at the prom, says he's unsure whom he'll dance with next. "It's causing me a lot of anxiety," he said yesterday. "There aren't enough stomach pills in America to calm me. Does Pepto-Bismol make industrial-strength tablets?"

He calls the attention "incredibly flattering" and "an embarrassment of riches."

ESPN is talking with Kornheiser about taking over one of the color-commentary chairs on "Monday Night Football" next season, when the games will move from Disney-owned ABC to Disney-owned ESPN. Kornheiser is under contract to ESPN for "Pardon the Interruption," the daily sports talk show he hosts with fellow Post columnist Michael Wilbon. The "MNF" job -- which Kornheiser tried out for five years ago before ABC picked comedian Dennis Miller -- would more than double Kornheiser's reported $900,000-a-year "PTI" contract, according to sources.

The hitch: It's unclear whether Al Michaels, "MNF's" play-by-play man, will return to the booth next season. Michaels reportedly wants to join NBC, which will carry NFL games next season. If ESPN lets Michaels out of his contract, he would be replaced by ESPN's Mike Tirico, with Kornheiser and former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann as commentators, sources said. If Michaels stays, however, ESPN plans to use only Theismann for color.

Kornheiser also is being sought by the two rival satellite radio services, Sirius and XM, which want him to host a daily sports talk show. Sirius is allied with Snyder, who last month bought three small radio stations in the Washington area and plans to convert them into outlets that will broadcast Redskins games and other sports programs.

Those deliberations, in turn, affect Kornheiser's involvement with four local media outlets: WTEM-AM; the new WTWP-AM and FM; The Post; and WRC-TV.

Kornheiser hosts a weekday program on WTEM (980) and each week writes three Post sports columns (or "columnettes," as he calls the short pieces that appear on Page 2 of the Sports section).

Kornheiser said it's possible that because of time constraints, he would take a leave from his Post column if he landed the "MNF" job. His fear of flying would put him on the road (in a specially outfitted bus) five days a week, he said, leaving limited time to write for the paper, which he joined in 1979. But Kornheiser and the newspaper want to continue the relationship.

"We want Tony to be a big part of this newspaper for years to come, and we'll work with him on a new schedule to see that it happens," said Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, The Post's assistant managing editor for sports.

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