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Those Guys Have All The Fun. Wish they'd have invited the reader.
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.