Monday, June 6, 2011

ESPN book is thorough, tedious

Because this is about a sports book, I can get away with using a sports analogy. The new book about ESPN, "These Guys Have All the Fun," is a marathon, not a sprint. It's 745 pages of everything you've ever wanted to know about Bristol, Conn.

If you're picking it up hoping to read about scandal and wild parties, you'll be a little disappointed. It includes some sordid tales, but nothing that hasn't been written about the worldwide leader before or hasn't happened in a corporate office. From a Cleveland perspective, Gary Miller gives his account of what happened when he was accused of urinating out of a window in the Flats during the 1997 baseball playoffs.

It feels like a marathon because the first quarter of the book is a detailed account of the business deals that got the network started. It's thorough and probably interesting if you're in the TV business. For those who just want to read about the names we recognize, plowing through the first 150 pages is like watching the last "Star Wars" movie, when you just want to scream "Turn into Darth Vader, already!"

Once it moves past the network getting off the ground, the book does as well. It covers expansion, "SportsCenter," network personalities, dealings with sports leagues, failed promotions and plenty of internal politics (gender, race and power). The authors got just about everyone involved in ESPN's history to talk on the record - the book is told in an oral history format.

A few things I found interesting:

- A great story in the beginning about a satellite company, its first customer, and where the first customer's transmission was going.

- If ESPN has to bow to any entity, it's the NFL. The account of the last TV rights negotiation gives a fascinating look at the stakes involving multibillion dollar entities.

- Keith Olbermann is a genius - he wrote Mickey Mantle's obituary in 15 minutes. He's also not the easiest colleague to work with. They probably could have gotten an entire book about Olbermann's time at ESPN by itself.

- Jeremy Schaap's perspective on his interviews with Bobby Fischer and Bob Knight.

- Howard Primer


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