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Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN Paperback – December 1, 2011
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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.
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Unfortunately, Shales and Miller's technique falls flat when it comes to the history of ESPN. The problem is that ESPN doesn't really provide its own established narrative for the reader (and Shales and Miller, I would imagine) to fall back on. While ESPN certainly has aired several memorable sporting events, to most viewers, the events themselves are of importance, not the personalities and stories behind them. While the behind the scenes gossip from some of ESPN's most well known personalities, such as Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann are interesting, and often fun, the book often feels more like rehashing of contract negotiations and business dealings than a trip through ESPN history. Once the book gets past building the foundations of the network and its early days (which are truly the best part of the book), it seems like an endless stream of narratives about not much tied together by even less. The book is begging for a narrative that the interviews presented do not really provide.
Most puzzling is that a book about a sports network provides so few anecdotes about specific moments in sports or from sports personalities. Perhaps this is because, while ESPN has covered its fair share of sports news, it seldom has carried the biggest events. Or perhaps it is because Shales and Miller intended the book to focus solely on the business and network itself without the context of the sporting events that shaped it. Unfortunately, this is a bit like writing a book about SNL without mentioning skits or guest stars.
If you're a fan of the network, you probably should pick up the book. But if you're just a casual sports fan who only watches ESPN when your team is on, you're going to find the book a slog. Shales and Miller seemed to have a hard time figuring out what they wanted to do with the book, and as a result, it's a major disappointment.
What I found was a lot, and I do mean a lot, of unbelievable ego's that at times wanted me to come through the book and slap some of them. Stuart Evy, the early mastermind, was egotistical and frustrating to listen to. I found many of the anchors to be quite different from their persona - I thought Chris Berman was just the good 'ole guy he comes off being on screen. Instead, he's a stuck up, typical "me, me, me" personality. This is the story of hundreds like, and unlike, Berman and if you enjoy reading into these personalities then this book is for you. The authors do a good job of also weaving it into historical context - be prepared for very long chapters, with many run-on transitions that have little indication of change other than words in italics.
Overall, I felt it was probably super accurate and the research put into is 2nd to none - but this book was flat out hard to read. It dragged on & on and read, well, poorly in my opinion. I learned a lot and I don't discount it but I think that this could have been cleaned up and organized a bit differently and been much more successful.