In the exclusive behind the scenes look, sports fans can unlock the fascinating history of the channel that changed the way people watch and interact with their favorite teams.
It began, in 1979, as a mad idea of starting a cable channel to televise local sporting events throughout the state of Connecticut. Today, ESPN is arguably the most successful network in modern television history, spanning eight channels in the Unites States and around the world. But the inside story of its rise has never been fully told-until now.
Drawing upon over 500 interviews with the greatest names in ESPN's history and an All-Star collection of some of the world's finest athletes, bestselling authors James Miller and Tom Shales take us behind the cameras. Now, in their own words, the men and women who made ESPN great reveal the secrets behind its success-as well as the many scandals, rivalries, off-screen battles and triumphs that have accompanied that ascent. From the unknown producers and business visionaries to the most famous faces on television, it's all here.
JAMES ANDREW MILLER is an award-winning journalist and co-author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN; Live from New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live as Told by Its Stars, Writers, and Guests, which spent four months on the New York Times bestseller list; and Running in Place: Inside the Senate, also a bestseller. He has written for The Washington Post, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, and many other publications. He is a graduate of Occidental College, Oxford University, and Harvard Business School, all with honors.
I loved the author's previous book about SNL so much I've read it twice. While this book is certainly a comprehensive look at ESPN throughout the years, it's not always the most fun read. There were sections of the book that were boring, particularly when the focus was on the financial side of the network. There were definitely stories of behind the scenes drama, but to be honest I was hoping there would have been more. Maybe since so many of the people interviewed still work for the network, they weren't as eager to share or something.
Overall, some parts were interesting and others rather dull. I'm still glad I read it though but I would recommend this as more of a library read than a purchase.
This was essentially two books in one, and was wildly uneven. The first hundred pages or so were the grindingly slow recap of the origins of ESPN, and the detailed description of chasing down financing and pricing out satellite transponders was less than riveting. (Having said that, I am now well prepared to start a fledgling cable company, and am currently finalizing a bid to purchase the rights to broadcast old episodes of Entertainment Tonight.) I am not one to flip ahead in a book that I'm reading, but even I couldn't help nosing ahead for a few pages as my eyelids got heavier. This section should have been pared down a lot - this section gets 2 stars, and that's being charitable.
Fortunately, my patience was rewarded, as the narrative turned to the personalities behind the network. (Spoilers!) Keith Olbermann is a sociopath! Bob Ley is a blowhard! Mike Tirico is such a gentleman that he'll follow you home even after you tell him to stay the hell away from you! Michelle Beadle hates Erin Andrews! Chris Berman can't string two words together without one of them being "fuck"! Bill Simmons is surprisingly candid and insightful! Nobody, and I mean nobody comes off well from this book, and the strength of this section is not only how Shales and Miller were able to somehow get these personalities to admit so much on the record, but to contextualize the quotes in such a way that they paint a much broader picture. This section gets 4 stars, and that's being conservative.
Shales and Miller wrote one of the best oral histories I've ever read in Live From Saturday Night, and the big difference here is that book is much more personality driven, which appears to play to their strength; by choosing to spend so much time on the relatively dry background material, this book fell a bit short of that high standard.
If taken literally the sub-title would suggest that if all the fun to be had has been had by the guys at ESPN then none is left for the reader, which is about right. This book is as much fun as the worst high school reunion you ever went to—mostly boring stories, hyped glories, and stabs at score settling by ESPN’s mostly male “mean girls.” Basically ESPN was a brilliant idea, well-executed (minus the sexist shenanigans that plagued its early years and the infighting for credit), particularly from a business and entertainment perspective that has grown ever more successful over thirty plus years.
The book lets its participants (and some external witnesses) tell the story, start to present. Miller and Shales assemble excerpts from scores and scores of interviews and (I’m guessing) emails. The snippets are strung together chronologically to give the narrative the illusion of structure and the only spine the book has, alas. Everyone is here: founders, executives, clients, owners, and talent—Berman, Ley, Patrick, Olbermann, Roberts, Saunders, Steiner, Kilborn, Gammons, Stephen A, Kornheiser, Wilbon, Bayless, Schaap, Kremer, Scott, Reilly, Fowler, Andrews, Jackson, Limbaugh, Tirico, Gray, Storm, Simmons, and Beadle…among others. Some come off quite well, Robin Roberts and Bob Ley, for example. Others hustle to hang themselves with the petards of their own vanity and pettiness. Olbermann, Simmons, Limbaugh, Rome, and Kornheiser come off the worst. Each is obliviously insensitive of mouth but hyper sensitive of eye and ear when it comes to what’s said or written about them. None of them can take what they dish out. Berman seems at the beginning of the book to be living the dream but as the book progresses he sounds pissy and aloof, like a man who is a Brand and must be snarky to protect it. ESPN ces’t moi.
Jocks make appearances, sometimes as guests and sometimes as analysts. Rivals get their say every now and again. The President makes an appearance for his Baracketology participation. The founding, the role of Getty, Capitol City/ABC and Disney as investors/owners, the contracts with major league sports, the comings and goings of executives and talent, Jimmy V’s appearance at the ESPYs, the buying and mis-management of Monday Night Football, the mutually beneficial partnerships with America’s Cup, NASCAR and extreme sports, different scandals that send folks with ratings clout into brief suspensions (Kornheiser and Olbermann, for example) and those without it into exile (Sean Salisbury), trying to balance the incestuous relationships between ESPN and its journalistic expectations and the business relationships they have with major sports and some athletes, and women and minority hiring all get attention, as do more trivial topics (ESPN cell phones, Jim Gray’s tug of ego-war with no one over credit for the Lebron James “decision” program, and an anchor who can’t read his own handwriting—the first two might have been interesting if there was either any thoughtful self-reflection or interviewer challenge to the self-serving narratives presented).
At almost 800 pages tedium is the main mood, pursued closely by backbiting, sniping, self-promotion, and corporate and personal self-congratulation. Miller and Shales do little to earn their money in terms of sorting, contextualizing or effective framing. Hell, they don’t even keep score. There are italicized bits between trains of interview excerpts of varying utility with ten underlined italicized notes along the way signaling one of the ten steps that Miller and Shales identified as putting ESPN on its way to world domination. In an afterword added to the paperback edition Miller and Shales congratulate themselves (self-congratulation must be infectious; say, this is a pretty good review) on their reporting on the grounds that all the calls for apologies and correction that followed the hardback edition were directed at those who spoke, not at them, who only recorded. But since Miller and Shales do so little that might pass as reporting there is nothing they do say for anyone associated with ESPN to complain about. This is a book for ESPN addicts, not necessarily for sports fans or journalism fans or for people who enjoy oral history or an interesting reading experience.
3.5 stars. A fascinating (sometimes more than others) look at the lifespan of EPSN. As an oral history, this book really isn’t “written” but instead involves the cobbling together of various firsthand accounts, with the occasional commentary by the authors thrown in. This works for the most part because you get a sense of the various personalities. Also, it’s fun when people contradict each other.
The thing that struck me the most, at least at first when my husband asked why the hell I was reading a 750 page book about ESPN, is this is in a way a business primer, or the story of any given startup. I’ve never worked at ESPN but have experienced the startup dynamic multiple times, complete with the locker room vibe and arbitrary rule enforcement. (At ESPN feel free to feel up coworkers but do not make a Hitler joke on air! Do not! There is a zero tolerance policy for Hilter jokes!) There really is nothing like that atmosphere, in good ways and in bad. So you take a really unique environment and throw in sports, and I’m sold.
Now this is a long freaking book so naturally it goes off on subjects I don't really care about, both in terms of sports and people. America’s Cup? Yawn. Ditto for Nascar and soccer. Also, there are so many behind the scenes players at certain points it’s hard to keep them straight. When Steve whoever talks you’re like, wait, who are you again? It’s a little different when it’s Chris Berman or Dan Patrick. Though executive John Walsh, “the albino cat" (as Dennis Miller calls him), sticks with you.
There are some hilarious parts. For example the phrase “This is SportsCenter” really started as a smartass comment by Keith Olbermann (shocking). He was trying to promote it in the least promotable way because he was pissed about something, per usual. Other phrases included “you are immersed in SportsCenter” and “of course this is SportsCenter.” He’s always been a douche. A smart and hilarious douche, but a douche nonetheless, which is different from a dick, a la Tony Kornheiser. Unsurprising, but unlike with Olbermann he doesn’t really have a humorous side.
The popularizing of poker was an interesting little twist, even if they were helped by the meteoric rise of Chris Moneymaker. Wow, I hate myself knowing those words. Television poker makes me nauseous. Thanks a lot ESPN. PS: poker is not a sport.
I don’t think you have to be a hardcore ESPN fan to enjoy this. I am a sports nut and while I watch ESPN, I definitely don’t watch it every day. Basically, this tome is a great combo of business and sports. The early years would make a fantastic television or miniseries (think Mad Men plus twenty years and add in Keith Olbermann in a leather jacket and cheesy mustache!) After reading this I spent way too much time on You Tube looking at old “This is SportsCenter” commercials. They really are brilliant. All in, a highly enjoyable read.
The most interesting stat in this book: About $4 of every monthly cable bill in the country goes to ESPN . . . even if the customer never watches ESPN.
"If you never cried when your team lost, you really shouldn't work at ESPN. You just won't get it." --Jean McCormick
"This place is really like an island of misfit toys, like who else would employ these people? What would they do?" --Steve Berthiaume
"Ted Williams was actually setting up snacks for us because he was afraid we would be tired, hungry, and thirsty after listening to him for an hour and twenty minutes. That was amazing." --Peter Gammons
"If we hire [Keith] Olbermann back, he first has to stand in the reception area and everybody who wants to, gets to come up and punch him in the stomach." --Rece Davis, quoting a coordinating producer
"Why are you ruining my life?" Tony Kornheiser, in response to being offered Monday Night Football
Oh, and Steve Jobs makes a brief appearance in this gigantic book . . . when he insults the guy who runs ESPN by telling him, "Your phone is the dumbest f---ing idea I have ever heard." (The ESPN Phone was a disaster.)
This is an extremely entertaining and well-sourced book, although I wish the structure was clearer. The "Those Guys Have All the Fun" title sounds less fun when you read the authors' coverage of the many sexual harrassment suits filed against the company.
This is an interesting, but flawed, book about the history of ESPN, full of lively stories and good analysis of the network's rise to prominence, but ultimately rather soft. It's an oral history, which I didn't realize going in and found off-putting to read at first. Ultimately it's an effective story-telling mechanism, but it really limits the extent of distant analysis of what happened, and especially criticism of the parties involved.
Nonetheless, you do get a good feeling for a few of the mainstays: --Keith Olbermann is a real genius, albeit impossible to work with --Bill Simmons is just as hard to work with as Olbermann, with about half the talent --Dan Patrick is a consummate professional --Chris Berman is a buffoon and moreover a slappy for the "partners." He says directly that he didn't watch Playmakers but that "I knew if the league was pissed, I probably should be pissed." --Mark Shapiro is a prick, albeit one with some good ideas. Just clear from the way he treats people, and the way he talks about the WNBA.
And as far as how the network operates, it seems like a real meat-grinder, actually. It was probably a good business idea not to promote specific anchors/personalities, instead viewing them as replaceable, but it does seem like an extremely demanding place to work. And it's clear that the network's degree of deference to its "partners" (gag--that would be the leagues) is well beyond what it should be, not least in its cancellation of the show Playmakers. Playmakers's producer makes a good point, that the leagues needs ESPN more than ESPN needs the leagues, but the network behaves as if it's the opposite.
There are several memorable stories: --Loren Matthews, about happening upon Tim McGraw while working a college baseball game with Tug McGraw (who had met his son only recently) and seeing Tim's talent listening to cassette tapes in his car. --Dan Patrick sticking up for production assistants, and then the same guys meeting him at home as he brought home his baby, asking if they could help --That the network insisted the magazine be called ESPN, and the magazine editors compromising with "ESPN: The Magazine," and the resulting joke being that we live on "Earth: The Planet". --"Operation Cool Nuts" for Steve Levy doing Sportscenter in Iraq
However, the book also drags in parts--at this length, how can it not?--and it desperately needed a better copy editor. Many names are misspelled, which is inexcusable for what had to have been a high-budget project: Jermaine O'Neill (O'Neal), Jim Nance (Nantz; several times), Mac (Mack) Brown, Will Leach (Leitch), Beano Smith (Cook). Most egregiously, it refers to the US-UK World Cup game, when of course, the UK does not field a World Cup team--England does, Scotland does, Wales does. Anyway, the large number of errors makes you wonder about all the errors you didn't catch, and it really damages the book's credibility, in my view.
I grew up watching ESPN. I was a 90s ESPN child. I watched it everyday. I stayed up to watch Olbermann and Patrick. My friends and I would share catchphrases. I loved Craig Kilborn, SO I was excited to read this tome (at 800 pages, it is a tome).
The first 2 chapters were excruciatingly boring. It read like a business text. As a result it was difficult for me to get into the flow of the narrative. Luckily it picked up.
The book is told through first person accounts. However, the chapters are long and some stories just spring up out of the blue without prior warning. Some of the more interesting stories deal with ESPN and it's latest NFL contract and how they screwed themselves out of SUnday Night Football and dropped the ball with John Madden and Al Michaels.
But for me the best parts of the book dealt with how ESPN handles talent. I especially loved the stuff dealing with Olbermann and Bill Simmons. ESPN hates rebels.
Here's a quick list of what I learned: 1. Chris Berman is an arrogant prick 2. Mike Tirico is an arrogant prick 3. Dan Patrick is a saint. 4. Bob Ley is the epitome of professionalism 5. Mark Shapiro is an arrogant prick 6. Keith Olbermann is a whiny baby with obvious psychological issues 7. Bill Simmons is a whiny baby 8. Robin Roberts is a saint 9. There is nothing to do in Bristol but have sex with one another 10. Tony Kornheiser is hilarious, likes to curse, and has been screwdriver by management on numerous occasions. 11. And did I mention that Mike Tirico is an asshole?
This book is great if you love sports. Rather, this book is great if you love watching ESPN, which is not the same thing. Shales does the same basic trick he did with the SNL book -- interviews anyone who had anything to do wit the subject, and strings the interview quotes into a story, with a few bits of exposition tucked in here and there. That sounds easy, but making it all come out coherently, with some semblance of order, must have been a monumental task, and my hat is off to him.
That said, my god man, hire an editor. The book is roughly 76,522 pages long, or at least it felt that way. While the backroom stuff about personalities and office politics is fascinating, the wheeling and dealing among Getty/Cap Cities/ABC etc. is much less so. It almost needs to be two books: one focusing on the financial side and one on the editorial. And he does slide a bit into the hagiography mode, especially towards the end.
The people you expect to come off badly (Olbermann, Kilborn, Kornheiser), come off very badly, although I was surprised to see how obnoxious Bill Simmons comes across. And really, there is *no* way to justify the LeBron "Decision," no matter how hard Jim Gray tries.
I thought this was going to be a lot better than it was. I didn't mind the epistolary-like format; in fact, I thought it was appropriate for this type of book. However, I did have a problem with the inordinate amount of space allotted to executives. If you look at the index which lists where to find quotes from all of the personalities that are featured in the book, you can easily see that the majority of the book is composed of quotes from presidents/vice-presidents/etc. It made sense for the earlier part of the book, which describes how ESPN came to be, but after that it's just lots of people going on about how important they were to ESPN and how much of its success was because of what they did. Ugh.
The book failed in trying to paint ESPN as a leader in sports journalism. If it wanted to be honest with us, ESPN would have spent just as much time detailing the stories behind its failures (ex. The Decision) as behind its successes (ex. Jeremy Schaap vs. Bob Knight). Guess which events got more pages. If ESPN was hoping that this book would help raise their profile and advance their brand, they were mistaken, at least as far as I'm concerned.
It's obvious that this one is too long. The book is 763 pages, and the audiobook, which is what I'm doing, is 24 CDs. After the book gets done chronicling "the rise of ESPN," it really loses steam and starts to meander -- just covering the big headlines from the past decade or so, one after another. My impression, whether or not this is true, is that the authors did a mountain of interviews, selected every halfway interesting tidbit, and then arranged them in chronological order. This may be good oral history, but it's not really a book.
However, lately I have no desire to listen to NPR, so I've been making pretty good progress. I actively cared until disc 14, and now I'm just listening because I like the lingo and I like the Keith Olbermann interviews. Also: the title is a total misnomer. I'm not quite done, so maybe all will be revealed, but these guys are NOT "having all the fun." Sure, they may love sports, but it sounds like working at ESPN has been a slog and a scramble from the very beginning.
My kingdom for a storyteller! This book consisted of snippets from interviews along the inside players at different phases at ESPN. For that reason, it was interesting, but there is good enough material for a five-star book. The decision to just include quotes after quotes after quotes decreased the enjoyment of the final product. The reader hears from a lot of people whose perspective is interesting, but the narrative is never woven together in a way that, ironically, made ESPN famous.
Tight editing would have, for instance, whittled away some of the ego and money battles that have almost no staying power in maintaining interest. It is difficult to imagine even the least powerful person at ESPN being deserving of pity, but this can occasionally come across directly in people's words.
Heavy in weight, overt pomposity and self-congratulation, this book is for the future business executive who also happens to be a sports lover. Perhaps they can have it at all chapter meetings of the Toastmasters' clubs, as well.
The beginning is fascinating/whip-smart/gleeful only to turn into one of the most boring books I've ever read. Too bad that meant slogging through 400+ pages of the tedious stuff as this tome comes in at over 700 pages.
Not even for the die-hard ESPN fans; I only hope any future projects from the "great" minds of Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller has a ruthless editor.
Some oral histories are really interesting, because they have a "you were here" aspect to them that a traditional history doesn't have. Others are just an excuse to allow the "writer" to slack off, and not add any context or analysis. While it is interesting (at least a bit) to read about the specifics behind the rise of ESPN, this book, in my opinion falls into the latter category. I made it about a third of the way through before I gave up.
Is it possible for a book that is 700+ pages to be disjointed? To feel as if it is missing something? Have you ever felt like you didn’t get the full story, or that you were cheated after reading something that could easily be confused for a dictionary? If you have, then you know what I am feeling right now. If you haven’t, and you don’t want to share in this not-so-wonderful feeling with me, then I suggest you stay as far away as you can from Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN.
When I first heard that there was going to be a tell-all book about the Worldwide Leader, I was geeked. I’m one of those guys who turn on ESPN as soon as I get home, whether it is at 6pm or 3am. I turn to them whenever I need information on my favorite sports teams, or when I want a provocative sports documentary to watch. For as long as I can remember, ESPN has been the first voice in everything related to athletics. For me (and other sports fans in my generation), other sports entities just couldn’t match up. It was ESPN or bust. So when I found out that I would be able to find out all the dirt about my favorite sportscasters in their own words…how could I lose?!
Very easily, apparently.
Those Guys Have All the Fun is told strictly from the point of view of the people who lived the events, with very little in the way of narrative from the authors, except to move the topic from one event to the next. It begins where ESPN began, and shows how the network grew from a small idea into a sports (and television) goliath. There are interviews with the men whose brain child the idea of a 24-hour sports network was, as well as interviews with the parties who financed the company. There are interviews with the more popular anchors from SportsCenter; hosts of many of the shows on the network; and even a few sections that involve the writers from ESPN.com and ESPN: The Magazine. The chapters in the book are broken down into fractions of time, from the infancy of the network to the domination in sports that it enjoys today. But it still felt like there was something missing, something that the die-hard fans of the network should have known, yet was still being withheld. It wasn’t until I neared the end of the book that I realized what it was: there was none of the scandal that the book promised!
If I were a person who was looking to learn how to start a company, negotiate partnerships with the major sports leagues in the world, or learn how to start off as a nobody and end up with the highest title in the company–only to use that to leverage a new position elsewhere–then this book would be perfect for me. From a business standpoint, this would be a great learning tool. If I wanted to know about behind the scenes bickering between people who never set foot in front of a camera, this would be an excellent read. But this book was marketed toward the ESPN fan; the person who doesn’t care how they get their sports information, just that they get it from knowledgeable people. This book doesn’t focus nearly enough on the people who we are accustomed to watching, or the voices we are used to hearing; instead, it focused on the people who made decisions behind the scenes. Those are the people that we wouldn’t know from a stranger on the street, so we don’t really feel a connection with them. Unless you are a television network insider, does the name Tom Skipper ring a bell? Do you care how he got promoted to the head of ESPN, and how others who wanted the job were pissed because they felt that he kissed ass in order to get the job? Or would you rather find out, in detail, about the issue behind the on-air tension between Mike Tirico and Tony Kornheiser? Yeah, me too.
Of all the things that this book failed to do, there is one thing that stood out the most: it failed to persuade me to feel one way or another about the company. The scales have not tipped, even minimally, in my affection for ESPN. It did, however, create in me a huge dislike for Chris Berman.
Chris Berman is probably the most recognizable name/face on ESPN. He has been there from the beginning, and has made Sunday mornings during football season a must-see event on ESPN. But the things that Berman said–and that were subsequently printed in the book–made him come off as an arrogant, self-absorbed prick. In the section where it is described how Sunday Night Football was moved from ESPN to NBC–taking with it the exclusive rights to the highlights from earlier games–the only thing that Berman said was, “What about me? How could you do this to me? I built this damn show.” There is another snippet of Berman, where he says that he has no knowledge of one of the bigger names on ESPN (Bill Simmons), only because that person is associated with the website and that is “a branch of the family tree that I don’t have any association with.” I lost a large amount of respect for Berman after reading his quotes throughout the book.
Maybe my expectations for the book were too high; Dan Patrick, on his radio show, kept saying that this book was going to expose a lot of the in-office issues that the fans were never privy to. Deadspin.com claimed that the book detailed a major issue between Erin Andrews and Michelle Beadle , where Beadle gave the opinion that Andrews handled her scandal incorrectly, and that Beadle would have done it completely differently. None of that was ever said. At most, Beadle said that what happened to Andrews was sad, and that she felt for her.
It was said that over 300 pages were edited out of the book. Maybe they should have re-evaluated what they kept and what they removed. If they were to just take the information that had to do with the people whom we fans have grown accustomed to and put that into a book, this book would be 400 pages shorter. After reading Those Guys Have All the Fun, it feels as if I have learned about every star in the universe, but I have no idea what the names of the oceans on my own planet are. The title states that ‘Those Guys Have All the Fun’; they must have been the only ones, because reading this book definitely wasn’t fun for me. Out of five stars, Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN earns two from this reader.
The last time it took me four months to read a book, it was "Europe Central." Before that, "Infinite Jest," and prior to that one, "Don Quijote."
In other words, the last time it took me four months to read a book, the book had the decency to be good.
"Those Guys Have All The Fun" should have been a breeze for me. I should have had a blast reading it. After all, I'm its total target audience: an ENORMOUS fan of both oral histories and sports. I've never read an oral history that I didn't adore. I've never met a sporting event I didn't love (okay, so maybe I'm not the biggest NASCAR gal, but I'm not sure that counts as a sport). So why did I dislike this so much?
It's long. It's long and it rambles and there's too much talking with not a lot of specificity. The first third of the book is so much about the business of getting ESPN started that my eyes started to glaze over. The middle section, about when the network really hit its stride, should have had an "aha!" moment where we finally really feel like the network arrived. It doesn't. And the last chapter or two should have been more about the cultural impact of ESPN but instead falls into a trap of talking about the scandals the various personalities ESPN employs have gone through, and just how conservative the bosses of the network have become (it is, after all, owned by Mickey Mouse).
I never got a real idea of what someone's actual personality is like, because there's too much petty shit. Reading seventeen colleagues' opinions on someone should help you get an understanding of that person, but instead you lose the forest for the trees. More than once I would read thirty pages about a person, only to realize on page thirty one that everyone HATED him. It would also be really helpful to hear what someone was like as a boss, instead of just hearing from their peers. That could inform the situation immensely.
For the book's 744 pages, there's an awful lot that's left unexplained. Someone will defend themselves against the "endzone thing," or the "Hitler thing," or the "boob thing," and somehow the thing itself won't be described. There's no real flow and I never quite understood the chapter breaks. Moreover, it's such a big story that disparate parts get jammed in next to other with breakneck speed. ESPY's! PTI! Bill Simmons! Olbermann! Bam, bam, bam!!
The most interesting parts in my mind were about the difficult people - the Olbermanns, Simmonses, Kornheisers. I'm pretty sure I'm among the minority in that opinion, but at least I wasn't bored when one of them was talking.
I'm very frustrated with how much energy I put into this book, and how much energy was put into compiling it. I'm Miller's target; I'm his audience... and I'm bored.
Alternate title could be: Those Guys Have All the EGO: Did We Mention How Important We All Are? I stopped watching ESPN a long time ago as I tired of the anchors trying to out-clever each other and as other sports cable news options became readily available. Still, I was interested in how it all began, as well as reading about Olbermann and some of the behind-the-scene antics of the big names; Jim Rome I'm talking to you, too. But the constant need to remind us that, every step of the way, ESPN was changing the landscape of sports broadcasting left me annoyed to the point where I eventually "bonked" and had to crawl across the finish line. What I could have used, instead of the non-stop male ego trips, was more focus on the women. I've always respected Andrea Kremer and nothing I read here changed that. The little bit devoted to her could have been fleshed out and included more on Robin Roberts and pioneer Lesley Visser (and less on Tony Kornheiser). Michele Tafoya, I believe, is the best in the business, male or female, especially as a sideline reporter. And the Linda Kohn stuff was good, but again, too little in a 750-page opus. I guess with all the pages devoted to the employees' sex scandals and the covered-up or brushed over sexcapades (and alleged crimes) of various professional athletes, including but not limited to Kobe, Tiger and Ben Roethlisberger--shame on how you let your cozy relationship with the NFL turn a blind eye on that one ESPN--there wasn't enough space to talk about the chicks. Like some other reviewers, I could have done with less NASCAR, poker, soccer (I know the rest of the world loves it, but most Americans still don't) and America's Cup. I mean, really Dennis Conner, you're the first American skipper to lose the oldest trophy in the nation's history, yet you complain about having cameras on board, then extort ESPN into giving your syndicate more money to put those distracting cameras on board. Really? One thing about the now overexposed ESPY's. In the first installment, the ESPY's gave us Jim Valvano's extraordinarily courageous speech, something that is replayed every year in our house, and that' makes up for every overhyped year that has followed. I'm new to the oral history format but I'm pretty sure the segues from event to event shouldn't be as jarring as they are written here. This oral history, for me, left the cheering in the pressbox .
I couldn't go below four with this one, even thought I thought long and hard about it. This is an exhaustive tome on the vagaries of all things espn. This book fascinated me for long stretches (and the stretches are loooong indeed), illuminating things going on behind the scenes of events that marked epochs through my childhood. On some level, even though I knew that it couldn't possibly be true, I believed that the espn headquarters was a place where mascost and athletes roamed freely, acting out any way they wish. Even though this book specifically disabuses this notion by pointing out that the ad campaign was a major turning point for espn... I don't care. I still willfully refuse to believe the obvious truth. I believe the Syracuse Orange(man?) is still morosely staring from one bathroom to another, faced with an impossible choice and harassed by whatever anchors walk by.
I was shocked by how many people involved with the founding of espn were bitter and how relatively little money they made in starting a global multi-billion dollar empire(though these are likely correlated). I was not shocked that it was a raunchy boys' club. I was the opposite of shocked, in fact. I got a little bogged down in the dramatization of recent 'controversies' and could do without ever hearing Jim Rome or Skip Bayless talk again. Also, the romantization of what top executives actually do by the same top executives was beyond tiresome. You make sports entertaining and you are compensated handsomely for it. You are not solving world hunger. Deal with it. I was also entertained at how much everyone in the book hated my favorite columnist- even mroe than Olberman for some, a legendary prick. (This in now way shape or form changed my opinion. The guy is biting and funny and likes creative control. He's also too popular to clamp down on, so he gets to do what he wants. Tough noogies)
all in all an impressive feat of writing by Miller and Shales and co. Self aggrandizing at times, but mostly by the people talking about how awesome they are- and that just being transcribed. If you grew up watching Sportcenter multiple times a day in the summer like I did (and every boy in the late 80s), it's a must-read.
This book has two conflicting problems. First of all, it is too long to read as a single narrative. Secondly, it is too short to adequately delve into the intricacies of the stories it wishes to tell. For every fully developed and interesting vignette, there are half a dozen 1-2 page summaries of what seemed to be very interesting and nuanced developments in the company. When confronted with these stories, often the editors had a hard time fully contextualizing their importance to ESPN or the sports world in general. Particularly as the book approaches the present time and shifts its focus away from the managerial aspects of the company to more specific events as told by the talent and reporters, the book really begins to lag. While much of the book was at least interesting, it was presented in a format which did not allow for satisfying storytelling. I would have recommended that the editors (who must be commended for their exhaustive interviews with hundreds of different people) provide even more material and give up the hope of being concise. The other option would have been to cut out a lot of the little side stories and try to make it the story of the company as a whole, instead of trying to incorporate every single major event which happened to or on ESPN. Stories such as Jeremy Schaap's interview of Bobby Fischer or Jemele Hill's poor decision to make a Hitler comparison could have been easily cut without interrupting the storyline. Those Guys Have All the Fun is a worthy effort which unfortunately falls very short of it's potential.
This lengthy oral history of ESPN had a huge amount of buzz before it. There was an embargo on its release to help drum up interest.
But like a summer blockbuster, all the interesting stuff was in the trailer. The book is 700 pages full of TV executives talking about expanding market share, blowhard ESPN anchors talking about how wonderful they are and how awful other people are, and then there are bits and pieces about the seemingly rampant sexual harassment at the cable sports network.
I watch a lot of ESPN as I enjoy watching sports on TV and the network covers just about everything I like. It evens cover stuff I don't like (the X Games is one example). But, I don't think I really learned much about ESPN that I didn't already know. The early years of the network are interesting and the Keith Olbermann stories are fun, but after that it's hard to wade through. (Way too much of Tony Kornheiser feeling sorry for himself is a big problem.)
The most interesting story in the book, and it's not even part of the oral history section, but rather a comment by Dallas Cowboys owner Jimmy Jones where he tells someone that when other networks show an NFL game, it's about the teams playing, but when ESPN broadcasts an NFL game, it's all about ESPN.
ESPN really likes themselves. Except when they speak in this book. Then they all seem to hate each other.
I appreciate the fact that the authors put in a lot of work in collecting all of their interviews and in organizing them into a cohesive narrative. At times, I was a little disappointed in what they chose to emphasize and what not to emphasize. For instance, I thought the discussion over the politics of the Monday Night Football announcer booth dragged on for too long. The book also mentions ESPN's reality show "Dream Job" from a few years back and notes that it received an extraordinarily high rating as far as cable programming goes. I'm not even sure "Dream Job" got a full page's worth of discussion. They didn't interview (or, at least none made the final cut) any of the former contestants, let alone one of the winners. When an interviewee was first introduced, his or her highest-ranking position within ESPN was denoted. However, when that person came up later, his position was left out, making it hard to remember who exactly this guy was. A simple key at the beginning or the end of the book would have been extremely useful.
Presents itself as "the story" of ESPN, but it's only one possible story. It's in-depth about the things that interest the authors, but the choices of what to cover and what not to cover are seemingly random: for example, pages upon pages of Tony Kornheiser (why?), but little about hockey, not a word about how ESPN came to air Australian Rules Football in the '80s, almost nothing about soccer until more than 700 pages in, and the Women's College World Series is not even mentioned. NFL Primetime isn't discussed except for its sudden cancellation when ESPN lost the Sunday night rights. Another downside is that some on-air events are referred to without explanation, leaving readers lost if they don't know or remember what happened. But there's still a ton of good material about how and why ESPN was built the way it was.
The book is well worth reading for any present or past ESPN viewer, and it left me with greater respect for how hard most ESPNers have worked, but it still leaves a lot left untold.
It give it 3.5 stars if I could. Overall, a very well done piece with an exhausting amount of research done by the authors. The executive side of the book is dry and has a lot of self-celebration. It's hard for me to relate to wealthy white men complaining that 250,000/ year wasn't enough for their efforts. The ESPN personalities make this book worth reading. As expected, the Olberman, Simmons and Kornheiser sections of the book provided the most entertainment and candid passages.
The main highlights I take away from this book: the reason why the NHL is no longer on the network. Why Monday Night Football gets, and will continue to get the worst match-ups. And how they have been able to remain profitable in the evolution of cable television.
My family didn't have cable when I was a kid, and my parents weren't sports fans, so really I learned to appreciate sports at the same time I learned to appreciate watching SportsCenter at lunch between classes in college. I remember the classic Olbermann and Patrick years very well.
This book is interesting because of that, but it has its flaws. One is the sheer proliferation of characters, who are only introduced the first time they appear in the oral history format. I'd find myself reading a section and having to ask: wait, who is this guy again?
Another flaw is that the book is split about 50/50 between scandals and infighting on the one hand and serious business history on the other. I'd be interested in reading a book of either, but the transition back and forth is jarring.
The huge egos, dumb luck, and some brilliant decisions (such as showing collegiate sports) reveal the business driving sports. I appreciate what madness and audacity drive someone to create a 24-hour network devoted to sports—the nail-biting start-up of a network that began with a half-finished studio and inexperienced staff. The behind-the-scenes look at how they make a little known sport like World Cup sailing understandable to the general public. The deft use of visuals and experts is brilliant (if only ESPN could only make cricket understandable, that would be a pure genius). A good read, although I skipped over the middle as it seemed to bog down.
2 1/2 stars. It seems to be about 200 pages too long. I also would have liked to hear more from the personalities one might be familiar with and less of the executives giving deadlines about how they got one TV deal with (insert league here) or how they feel about another executive. There are parts that are really interesting and then there are parts that weigh it down. In all, a good effort, but just seems to miss.