NEW YORK -- Howard Cosell announced Tuesday that he is returning to television as only he can -- as Howard Cosell, in a talking role.
ABC Sports' legend in exile will adapt his long-running weekly ABC Radio show, "Speaking of Everything," to an hourly presentation for national syndication. "Howard Cosell: Speaking of Everything" will debut at the start of next year, with Don Ohlmeyer as executive producer and Cosell's daughter Hilary as producer.
On the show, Cosell naturally will speak of everything -- although not too much of sports. For, in what could be his final thrust into the national spotlight, Cosell, 69, will attempt to distance himself from the sports world that largely created his fame and often fueled his tirades.
The bottom line is: Cosell is back, not so much a case of him missing television, he said, as it was TV missing him.
"I had public reaction to my absence in television," he intoned, "that can only be called incredible."
He did his last professional boxing match in 1982, his last "Monday Night Football" in 1983 and his last "SportsBeat" in 1985. Since he asked out of his 1986 contractual obligations to ABC, Cosell has continued his daily "Speaking of Sports" segments for ABC Radio and has written a syndicated sports column.
"I was a bit bored," he said, "and I still have things to say that nobody else is saying."
He is still very much Howard Cosell -- arrogant and bombastic and intolerant and verbose -- and also as compelling a broadcast journalist as there can be. The new Howard Cosell, however, largely will ignore sports.
Before a news conference Tuesday, he allowed a private chat. And the man who largely defined an entire generation of sports television emphasized his increasing distance from the sports world he so often has railed against:
What do you think of "Monday Night Football" these days?
"I've never seen a Monday night show. I have no idea what they're doing."
What do you think of ABC Sports' summer creation, "SportsNite" with Al Trautwig?
"I don't even know, as God is my witness, or have ever even heard of an Al Trautwig."
What sports do you watch on TV?
"It's hard for me to watch any sports on television. All the games look and sound alike."
What do you watch?
"Most that I watch offers nothing. It's trash. The only things I still watch are the news shows and David Brinkley on Sundays."
How much time will you devote to sports on the new show?
"Am I going to deal with Georgie Porgie and his tiffs with Lou Piniella? No. Am I going to deal with Paul Molitor's 39-game hitting streak? No, that's ridiculous. If it's a societal problem that invades sports . . . I will deal with such matters."
Will you produce features on the show other than just interviewing guests?
"There will be some production pieces. But I will be the core of the show. Obviously."
The last time Cosell was the core of a regular non-sports show was his short-lived "Saturday Night Live With Howard Cosell." It began Sept. 20, 1975, and ended Jan. 17, 1976. It was a variety hour, and it got bad reviews and low ratings. Cosell even sang a duet with Barbara Walters one week.
This time, Cosell will be more in his element, with a show that will be targeted for Sunday nights at 11:30. As Ohlmeyer said, "Howard is one of a kind. He has an ability to draw out of people interesting observations whether or not they want to be drawn out."
Near the end of his news conference, the topic of ABC was brought up. He was asked if he had any regrets over his ABC departure. Suddenly, there was anger in his voice, and with that familiar nasal cadence and patented rage, a lifetime of Cosellian invective seemingly shot through the room.
". . . Where else but under Roone Arledge could I have had the opportunity to produce Tommie Smith and John Carlos and back the black power salute? Where else but under Roone Arledge could I have had the opportunity to have made the fight for Muhammad Ali? Where else but under Roone Arledge could I have had the opportunity to make the fight for Curt Flood?
"Where else but under Roone Arledge could I have had the opportunity to do what I did when Jackie Robinson died? . . . Where else but under Roone Arledge . . . could I have produced the documentary -- these are classics in broadcasting -- on the death of Vincent T. Lombardi? . . .
"I love that company. That company was my life and my blood. Somebody once wrote that I'd die with ABC branded on my body. Well, if it is, I'm proud of it. I have no regrets. Regrets? I have love for that company, and I'm proud of the way I left it."
Where else but Howard Cosell could we find a public figure so self-indulgent and egotistical -- and right so often? He is Howard Cosell, and if he's going to be speaking of everything just a bit longer, it only makes sense that we should listen to him.