Saturday, October 1, 2011

#70: Those Guys Have All The Fun: Inside the World of ESPN by J.A. Miller and Tom Shales

New York, Little, Brown and Co.: 2011. 784 pages

You may balk at the 784 pages, but this book is written in snippets of interviews surrounding a larger theme. It is arranged chronologically; since I no longer enjoy the broadcasts of the Worldwide Leader, I did not know 3/4 of the "talent" interviewed in the last 150 pages. I liked the arrangement of the book and thought that letting the ESPN people speak for themselves was far better than writing a book about the company. Miller and Shales identify eight "steps in ESPN's rise to world dominance", all of which seem to be correct.

I think the best way to review this book is again to let the people in it speak for themselves. Some of the older folks that many of us grew up watching (Bob Ley, Chris Boomer, Robin Roberts, the late Tom Mees) or spent too much time in college watching (Keith Olbermann, Dan Patrick, Charlie Steiner) come across as, I hate to say this, regular guys who just happen to be on TV. I have long been a fan of Ley, Roberts and Steiner, and after reading this I am even more of one. Chris Berman's act has been old since 1998. He comes across as playing a character which he now believes to be himself. He's not a bad guy, he's not a good guy. He's just there. But, enough of that, here are some quotes:

1. "Am I a whore? Sure. (Stuart) Evey had money and we needed more of it." -- Chet Simmons on his hiring at ESPN in 1979 after his departure from NBC. Most of the "old timers" have a somewhat caustic view of the industry in general and are not afraid to admit that TV is about cash. This is refreshing. (29)

2."We were sometimes desperate...Bobby Knight had a run in with a Puerto Rican policeman at the Pan Am building, so that was a gift that kept on giving. We talked about that for hours." -- Bob Ley speaking about the early years of the network, in which no lesser lights than he and Chris Berman used a port-o-san in the parking lot because the bathrooms in the building were not finished. This is in many ways the strength of the book, and the difference between the older folks and younger folks. Ley, Berman, George Grande were bored in Bristol, CT shilling pool, Munster Hurling and Australian Rules Football. To reference another bloated sack of crap from the early 80s that has perhaps outlived its usefulness, SkyNet was not yet self aware. (55)

3. "During my first week, I was writing at my desk...I looked up and the Playboy Channel was on, with naked people everywhere, from the monitor right above my desk. There were like 12-15 guys standing there just to see how I would react." -- Karie Ross. This and a quote from Andrea Kremer during her time at NFL films. She asked a producer "What should I look like?" and he responded "Friendly, fuckable and informative." (200) What these people had to put up with on a daily basis in Bristol was akin to a group of Frat Rats at you neighboring university. The only things that mattered were sports and pussy. I have much more respect for the women that worked (and still work) at ESPN; but think of that friendly, fuckable and informative bull shit the next time you see Erin Andrews, Suzy Kolber or someone else. Shit hasn't changed in 25 years.

4."There was an effort by Disney to monopolize all intellectual property coming out of everyone's head while they were working at ESPN." --Jack Edwards. News Flash: Disney sucks. ESPN is a corporate shit heap. 'Nuff said. (352)

5. "Those of us who have that little touch of paranoia in them about a certain group--as I do about management--really are a bit more--comfortable is the right word--in a situation in which management if failing utterly." -- Keith Olbermann. I respect Olbermann, but he is kind of a dick. Most brilliant people are; they are smarter than the suits that will not take a risk. I respect Olbermann, Dan Patrick, Bob Ley and many others because they refuse to play the game. Or, as Mojo Nixon said back in the 80s, "I refuse to play the victim in your big daddy boss theater of the retarded." Berman plays that game well and is an institution. This also leads to gutless attempts at ratings by hiring Rush Limbaugh for a sports show and bringing on Russel Crowe to pimp his latest movie on Monday Night Football.  (262).

6. "The problem with the birth of ESPN2 was, you can't try to be hip. You either are or you aren't. It's that simple. Likewise, you can't try to be smart. You are or you aren't." -- Charley Steiner. (262)

7. "It all comes back to what people say about the place--they don't care about talent. Couldn't care less. "We don't need you, fuck you, we've got NFL games."" -- Dan Patrick (482)

This text reinforced a lot of what I saw on TV. The people whose work I liked I tended to identify with. That list includes Olbermann, Patrick, Ley, John Saunders (a 24 karat badass and one hell of a journalist), Suzy Kolber, Andrea Kraemer, Tom Jackson, Dick Schapp, Ron Jaworski and even Tony Kornheiser. You can see the integrity. The people I thought were schmucks on the air really are schmucks. Stuart Scott, Chris Berman, Joe Theismann; this list consists of people playing a part. But then, there are the executives. If you want to see who runs the show at this beast, peel back this curtain and compare the guys from the early 1980s to Mark Shapiro and the D-Bags at the wheel now. You'll feel dirty.

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