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on August 5, 2011
Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller wrote one of my favorite TV books ever, Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, as Told By Its Stars, Writers and Guests. That book, a huge compilation of interviews with dozens of people tied to SNL did a great job of detailing the creation, development, constant reinvention, and gossip behind one of our most beloved (and at times, reviled) shows.

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.
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on November 21, 2016
There are some great tidbits in between lots of rambling uninteresting sections. It took me a few years to finish this because it was somewhat disjointed and boring at parts. I haven't read my oral histories, so maybe that is par for the course. Personally, I would have preferred to read more about the business challenges and their approach to innovation/R&D, and less about internal culture dynamics and employee discipline. ESPN.com and ESPN3/360 are also only mentioned in passing, even though this book was just published in December, 2011.
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on October 15, 2012
The authors set out to tell a story of the 30 year history of ESPN. This is a massive undertaking that required interviews with hundreds of people who have worked with or for the company during this time as well as outsiders and competitors. It's amazing they were able to fit as much as they did within the nearly 800 page book. If there's an ESPN event that you want to know more about there is no doubt this book will discuss it. Moreover, the book reveals events and details that I was completely ignorant of.

That's not to say they are able to give the same amount of detail to every story, of course. There are some stories that are covered in less detail than I would have liked (such as Dan Patrick's departure) but it would be impossible to tell every story in sufficient detail in one volume.

The best part of all, though, is the way they tell the story. Rather than compiling the data and re-telling the story in their own words they let the interviewees tell the story. You'll read a few paragraphs from Keith Olbermann about a specific time at ESPN, followed by a few paragraphs from one of his colleagues, and then a page from his boss.This brings a very intriguing personal element to the book that is constantly compelling.

Every interviewee's comments on every subject are woven together masterfully. Though the book covers a massive amount of ground it is an easy read that is difficult to put down -- both because of the impact of ESPN and because of the humanness of each storyteller herein.

[...]
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on August 16, 2011
I've been watching ESPN for 25 years and remember those early days when they were so much more understated than "The Worldwide Leader" we know today. I wanted to get the juicy details and find out how this business evolved from far-fetched start-up featuring Aussie Rules football and lumberjack competitions to THE sports authority across the globe.

The authors only occasionally interject their own material, relying instead on recollections from seemingly everyone who ever worked at ESPN. This structure bothered me at first, as I didn't want to just read people telling stories about their experiences, but I came to love it after a while, because the cast of colorful characters -- often at odds with one another, especially in the early days -- are some of the most electrifying personalities I've ever read about.

It's amazing ESPN got going and survived. In fact, I found the first part of the book the most compelling. What it takes to start a venture like ESPN is almost unfathomable, and I love against-all-odds success stories. Broadcasts without any sound, wrangling for the rights to sporting events no one else wanted, a few female employees turning tricks in a NY hotel room (!), Machiavellian internal politics, nail biter financial daring... this story has it all.

I do question some of the editing and focus of the stories -- sometimes the authors tired me with endless tales of one subject (Tony Kornheiser not working out on Monday Night Football) and not enough details about others (the untimely death of Tom Mees). And the last 10% of the book wore on my nerves -- I just got tired of the self-congratulatory storytelling by that point.

It's too long, but it's still an absorbing read. I was also inspired by the work ethic and commitment of the people who made ESPN tick. For all their pros and cons, they're some of the most talented, hard working, driven, creative people you'll ever read about, and their stories made me reflect on my own professional commitments.

It may take a while to get through, and there are some boring parts, but this is very much a worthwhile read.
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on December 28, 2011
As a book, this doesn't work. As individual stories, the good ones that is, it does. The authors' style of letting the subjects tell you a story can be quite good. It can really give you more than one perspective and allow you to inform your own opinion on how things went down. You get a real sense as to what kind of people work(ed) at ESPN and you do get an insider's perspective. But there's just so much that's happened in the company's 30+ years. And the ways that the different stories are connected doesn't completely work as a whole. There is no clear division of subjects. A story can start, get interrupted half way through, and get picked up again later, without explanation. While I really do understand the style of writing taken here, I don't think it works for telling the complete story of ESPN. The book is at times about the business of ESPN or getting into the different peoples' personalities, and never does an outstanding job of doing both for the whole timeline. I think the reason is that if everything was covered, Shelby Foote would have had to write this book.
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on October 5, 2014
This is an excellent historical narrative about ESPN and its beginnings. There is a concentration on the main group of principals who
created and nurtured the network from its earliest days, and a behind-the-scenes descriptive account of who financed and supported the fledging network in the late 1970's & early 1980's. Then, from the boardroom and the control rooms, the book starts to interview personalities and talent. Every famous anchor & co-anchor was interviewed and offered a unique perspective about their tenure there or the atmosphere there during their time there. An interesting book that mainly deals with the beginning of the network and gradually moves into the present day. I recommend it to anyone interested in ESPN or network television.
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on January 15, 2012
I bought Those Guys Have All the Fun because I still listen to Dan Patrick every day (he's actually not in the book very much, but I suppose it says a lot about the book that I didn't much care), but also because I used to watch a ton of ESPN, especially in the 90s.

This book is an oral history of ESPN, presented almost exclusively as unadorned quotes from the over 500 people the authors interviewed, with very little context beyond the quotes themselves. It's really an amazing piece of work. The authors have arranged the interviews to present a historical narrative, often by showing differing perspectives on the same events. It's especially fascinating seeing what several people will say about a particular person, and then what that person will say about themselves.

One of the things that makes this book special is the skill of the interviewers. Listening to Jim Miller being interviewed on Dan Patrick's show, for instance, was an eye-opener. Dan Patrick is a good interviewer himself, but during the course of their talk Miller turned the tables on Patrick, becoming the questioner and getting Dan to open up about his experiences at ESPN in a way that he's never really done before. Miller and Shales were obviously very good at getting people to tell them things, and that skill shows in the depth and honesty of the stories included in the book.

I think the most surprising thing about the book was how fascinating the story of the business end of ESPN was. Matt Yoder has written an excellent review over on Awful Announcing that sums what a good job Miller and Shales did in telling the story of how ESPN got started, how it grew, how close it came to imploding, and why it's such a behemoth now. I was prepared, from the reviews I had read and other things I had heard, for the book not to be all about the sensationalism, but I wasn't prepared for what should have been a boring company history to be so compelling. That was the true thesis of the book, showing how ESPN the company evolved from such things as two men buying twenty-four hour satellite access simply because it was only a little more expensive than a four-hour block.

That said, I also felt that the authors, while focusing on the company, also didn't flinch from uncomfortable topics like the excessive drinking and partying and also the rampant sexual harassment. I have read reviews that express disappointment that those events were glossed over, and I can see the basis for that feeling. The authors did leave out some lurid details and sensational stories, but their intent wasn't to write a expose or a tell-all book. In an interview with Dan Patrick, Jim Miller explained that their philosophy about whether or not to include a story hinged on whether it was part of an event that caused a change or an upheaval in the corporation or contributed to a larger chain of events. One example Miller used was the story of one employee who had multiple girlfriends in multiple cities. It was obviously bad behavior on his part, but in the end it was a story that only affected his personal life, not the company, so they left it out of the book. In contrast, when two high-level employees had a messy affair, their relationship was one that ultimately brought about a huge change in how ESPN handled interpersonal relations and sexual harassment. So, in it stayed.

If you're looking for anecdotes about behind-the-scenes hijinks, for backstabbing and badmouthing and tales of petty jealousy, then I won't say that you won't find them here. But all those things are small parts of the whole work, mere asides to the real thesis of the book, which is to tell the story of ESPN through the words of the people who were part of it.
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on August 13, 2011
The duo of James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales have put together an expansive collection of content for <em>Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN.</em> Weighing in at a full-bodied 748 pages, the book is a text that seems a daunting obstacle, both as a reader and as proper work for the authors themselves.

The narrative of the book is told through two main elements: First, Miller and Shales have organized transcribed interviews with various former and current ESPN employees, relevant industry figures and even the creators of the network, the Rasumussen family. Miller and Shales then add their own writing in order to contextualize, fill in the blanks or segway between segments of history or conversation.

Stylistically, the book is an interesting read. The casual reader may find it odd at times to read italics -- in which Miller and Shales' own narrative is printed -- for more than a few pages at a time. If there was a qualm with overall content, it would that as editors, Miller and Shales often make the decision to contextualize an event or trial in ESPN history <em>after</em> gathering quotes from several interviewees instead of before. Several times along the 748 page journey I was left wanting for that editorial change as I was not privy to prior or intimated knowledge of the item, event or problem the interviewed personalities were referencing. Throughout the book I was left wanting Miller and Shales to have set the table with a brief summary of an event rather than doing so at the end.

That being said, the quality of content delivered through first-person accounts is both sizable and interesting in its own regard. For the most part, the authors allow interested parties and their quotes to stand alone, free of editorial judgment of the overarching theme of a particular event or happening. This lends itself to a dynamic content base that, admittedly, makes for an exciting read as quotes from opposing sides of an argument, event, process or policy change to sit in juxtaposition to one another.

Rather than sifting through an author's interpretation or bias through a straight narrative work, by placing direct quotes from interviewed parties Miller and Shales allow for the reader to see direct opinions from corporate executives, journalists and competitors on any given subject. The reader must sift through the obvious and sometimes laughably stark differences in opinion in everything from corporate identity all the way down to the actions of low-ranking Production Assistants.

Chronologically, the book moves in expected fashion. For the casual, younger fan of ESPN it may feel as if it lingers on the pre-dominance period of the first decade of existence, not lending much interest unless particularly enthralled with the happenings of funding a start-up cable network in the early 1980's. However, for anyone interested in ESPN as a brand, the meat of the book does not disappoint.

It would be a myth to say that <em>Those Guys Have All the Fun</em> is somehow a tale of ESPN's meteoric rise during the last fifteen years, launching off the shoulders of Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann as the main characters. Certainly, much of the hype before the release of this book was about the "reveal" of this era as the most interesting period in ESPN history. Although the Patrick/Obermann era gains some traction in the book there isn't much to the argument that it is the focus, or even the most compelling narrative thread.

<em>Those Guys Have All the Fun</em> is much more expansive than that and like the company it covers, is much larger than just a handful of people. The book is not without flaws, chief among them being length and lack of desirable editorial organization. However, as the title promises it is certainly a formidable look inside the world of ESPN and in typical, <em>SportsCenter</em>-esque irony, lends itself to being the best available option to consume desired content on a particular subject. Not unlike ESPN itself, the book is worth the price of viewership.
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on July 5, 2011
I purchased this book after hearing one of the authors on sports radio in Seattle. During college, I studied journalism and had some dreams of one day getting the opportunity to work for ESPN. Instead, I found that journalism is a cut-throat business that I had little desire to get involved in. It was because of this past dreams that I found it interesting to learn more about the amazing personalities behind ESPN and how it grew to the juggernaut it is today.

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.
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on June 16, 2017
It's a shame espn has turned so hard to the left. This books offers a glimpse of what might have been.
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