How many of you read Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller’s “Live From New York : An Uncensored History Of Saturday Night Live” thought to yourselves the duo ought to write a book about the ascent of ESPN? Have you ever sat up late and night wishing someone would attempt to pen the equivalent of Clinton Heylin’s “From The Velvets To The Voidoids” with Keith Olbermann as Peter Laughner and Chris Berman as Crocus Behemoth? In the event you’ve fallen into either category (the first is somewhat probable if you read this blog, the second only if you’re a deeply troubled person), you’ll be thrilled to know Shales & MIller’s “Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN” is heading for bookstores soon, and if an excerpt published by GQ is anything to do by, the epidemic of ass-grabbery and chronic zipper problems that have inflicted the Bristol campus might receive less play than Keith Olbermann’s long-rumored penchant for enraging colleagues and employers alike.
GQ’s entire preview of “Those Guys Have All The Fun” concerns Olbermann’s ego, his insubordination and the deep resentment ESPN’s other on-air talent (save for Dan Patrick) hold for him to this day (“we felt not so much relief when Keith left as unrestrained fucking joy,” recalls Bob Ley), though to be fair, the authors do take time to raise the question of whether or not Olbermann’s paymasters were entirely competent. The launch of ESPN2’s “Sports Night” might go down in history as sports broadcasting’s unfortunate answer to New Coke, though it is hard in 2011 not to enjoy the mental image of Olbermann being encouraged to Rob Halford-it-up while shivering alongside co-host Suzy Kolber.
I was approached about ESPN2 in the late spring of ’93, so I had only been on the air doing SportsCenter for a year. I was told it was going to be the younger, hip version of ESPN. My initial reaction to this was, “Are you sure you want me to do this, and do you want to break this team up?” They were essentially splitting the audience in half—building another stadium next door, all these analogies. About a week before we premiered, Walsh asked me a weird question: “Do you know which TV show has the largest percentage of its viewers under the age of 25?” I guessed something on MTV. “Nope! The 11 p.m. SportsCenter!” Needless to say, I was newly confused about what ESPN2 was for. “I want to move that audience over there and keep SportsCenter for adults!” That wasn’t my first hint of disaster, but it was one of the biggest ones. You do not “move” audiences.
Vince Doria (Vice president of news)
Keith was standing outside the building one day in a leather jacket and [executive vice president John] Lack came running up to him and said, “You need to wear that on the set.” It’s a good thing he wasn’t wearing a mink stole.
The reason I was wearing that awful leather jacket was because it was so cold in the ESPN2 studio. It had to have been fifty-five degrees in there. It was an icebox.
The problem about the birth of ESPN2 was, you can’t try and be hip; either you are or you aren’t. It’s that simple. But putting poor old Keith in a black leather jacket like he’s heading for a dominatrix studio, come on!