I’d like to offer my full and frank apologies to Little, Brown’s Marlena Bittner ; I’m only about 40 pages into James Andrew Miller & Tom Shales’ “Those Guys Have All The Fun : Inside The World Of ESPN”, a circumstance I am in no way blaming on my review copy showing up 9 days after it was promised. The Wall Street Journal’s Tim Marchman is not nearly as petty as I am about such things, and despite being late to the party with an actual critique of the book (as opposed to excerpts concerning Sean Salisbury’s schlong), he’s got no shortage of zingers squarely aimed at a few of the tome’s more prominent players.
The oft-discussed Keith Olbermann is merely, “a snark artist who at his top-dollar best came off as a second-rate approximation of a third-tier ‘Saturday Night Live’ talent” (pretty brutal considering that’s exactly what Rich Eisen and Craig Stillborn aspired to be), while the Kornheiser/Wilbon yack-fest, “Pardon The Interruption” is dismissed as “possibly the worst show in the history of television, one on which witless sports pundits take turns yelling at each other about things they know nothing about.” (I’m gonna take a wild guess and presume Tim isn’t recording every episode of SNY’s “Loudmouths” on his DVR) Though Marchman calls “Those Guys..”, a “fascinating and compulsively readable history”, he cannot help but note, “Television once served sports. By the time ESPN came into its full power, the relationship was reversed.”
If there is a major failing in “Those Guys Have All the Fun,” it is that no one wants to ponder the full implications of this shift. Instead, relatively minor controversies get a lot of space, such as ESPN’s occasional unwillingness to cover stories that reflect badly on corporate partners or the network’s culture of sexual harassment. Bill Creasy, a vice president of programming, is quoted saying: “When you have a pretty girl around the office, it’s a little bit happier than having an ugly girl.”
By contrast, relatively little attention is given to the conflicts inherent in a network being the largest promoter of sports, the most powerful partner of sports leagues and the largest journalistic shop covering them. A curious reader might want to hear why the quantity and quality of coverage of such sports as soccer and hockey seems to vary depending on how deeply their parent leagues are partnered with the network. But to wrestle with such questions would require introspection from ESPN’s key players and a realistic appraisal of the integrity and quality of their product. You won’t find much of that here.