Neil Best leaves no stone unturned in the world of sports media.
ESPN book means business
The history of ESPN has been told a thousand times – in books, in newspaper articles and, of course, by ESPN itself, given its notorious tendency to celebrate milestones large and small.
But never had anyone attempted something as ambitious as “Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN,’’ by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales, a sprawling opus on sale Tuesday.
The authors spent several years on the book, which runs 750 pages, involved more than 500 interviews and has been a source of angst and anticipation in Bristol for months.
Its arrival also has caused a stir outside central Connecticut. By Friday, presales had placed it third on Amazon’s bestseller list.
So, does it deliver? Yes, with some caveats.
First things first: It’s long. Really long. Too long, by a couple of hundred pages.
The structure, in which stories are told in often extensive direct quotes, takes us down some unnecessary paths, such as a peculiar obsession with the ESPYS, an event most sports fans consider irrelevant.
One other important consideration for potential buyers: While juicy excerpts circulating on the Internet have focused on on-air personalities, at its core this is a business book, one focused on the birth and growth of a sports media monolith as told by the executives who made it happen.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that journalistically. The feuds among the founding fathers make for fascinating reading, as do pivotal moments such as the day Cablevision first agreed to pay a subscriber fee for the channel, changing the sports business forever.
The endless parade of dueling egos is enlightening, engrossing and a little depressing.
There also are insights into some of the programming initiatives - some more successful than others - that shaped the network, as well as important marketing moments such as the groundbreaking "This is SportsCenter" campaign.
But some of the hard-core business-oriented stories are not for everyone. And the executives and production types who take up much of the book are important figures in the narrative, but they are not likely to resonate with the majority of fans unfamiliar with their names or faces.
(Suggestion for next edition: More pictures of behind-the-cameras people who are quoted extensively and figure prominently, such as former Newsday sports editor John Walsh.)
That brings us to the stars of the show, some of whose faces are among the 22 on the cover and all of whom appear regularly on your television set.
There was much anticipation of tawdry tales of sex and drugs, but most of the salacious stuff is focused on the rowdy early years in the 1980s, when the place was full of young people both working and partying too hard, and often disrespecting female colleagues.
Instead, much of the intrigue comes from contemporary star wars, including Chris Berman vs. Tony Kornheiser, Kornheiser vs. Mike Tirico, and Bill Simmons vs. Tirico . . . and Ron Jaworski, and Jon Gruden, and others.
Kornheiser on Berman: "The whole time I was on 'Monday Night,' Berman never mentioned my name. He loathes me, in part because of stuff I used to write about him."
Kornheiser on Tirico: "For two years he didn't even look at me."
Simmons on the current "Monday Night Football" booth: "Nobody watches for Mike Tirico. Zero. No one. And then you have Jaws and Gruden: 'This guy's great. Great throw. What a play. It's a great call. Good timeout.' They don't say anything negative."
The book also details the contentious, complex mid-1990s genius of Keith Olbermann, an iconic iconoclast in a pre-Simmons millennium.
And thoroughly recounts last summer's LeBron James "Decision" from the perspective of Jim Gray himself, who insists ESPN was fully aware of his controversial question-asking path.
And has a number of other interesting nuggets amid the waves of words, including broadsides aimed at ESPN by outgoing NBC Sports honcho Dick Ebersol and his "Sunday Night Football" producer, former ESPNer Fred Gaudelli.
It is not clear what if any ramifications there will be for the intramural sniping, especially for Simmons, who never is shy about expressing blunt opinions. But generally, ripping fellow ESPNers is a no-no under the regime of president George Bodenheimer.
A company spokesman said, “Respect for colleagues is critically important, and we will address these issues internally.’’
Sounds like the first chapter for the sequel!