Baseball Magazine

Book Review: Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN

By Cbr66 @JKries

Book Review: Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPNESPN is one of the most profitable and successful networks in television history, becoming an international brand and cultural icon in a relatively short period of time.

For people who grew up during the early days of cable, ESPN was somewhat of a curiosity, alongside upstart networks like MTV and CNN. It had 24-hour sports programming, yet almost all of it consisted of recorded events from sports most people had never heard of. Australian rules football, competitive sailing, and exercise shows could be seen at all hours of the day, along with ESPN’s flagship sports news show, Sportscenter.

Book Review: Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN
Through the latter half of the 90′s, and into the 21st century, ESPN became almost bigger than the sports it was covering. The on-air talent have, in some cases, become more popular than most superstar athletes. For every solid sports journalist at ESPN such as Bob Ley, there have been media stars, and personalities with over-sized egos such as Chris Berman, Erin Andrews, Dick Vitale, and Keith Olbermann. ESPN could probably still draw millions of viewers with shows where the focus is the talent just talking about how wonderful they are. While the network has thrived because of all of the long hours, hard work and dedication by the many talented people who have passed through their Connecticut headquarters, some of them morphed into entertainers, not just sports reporters dedicated to journalistic integrity.

While the lines frequently become blurred between ESPN and the professional sports leagues that they report on, millions of people still rely solely on “the worldwide sports leader” for their sports news and opinions.

James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales have put together a mammoth chronicle of ESPN, as told by the executives and on-air talent that worked at the network, and the founders and early pioneers that saw it grow into the money-making machine it is now.

The two authors wrote a similar styled book about the long-running television comedy show, Saturday Night Live. While this format of the principles telling the story can be effective and sometimes enlightening, it can also become repetitive and ultimately a bit of a dry read. It can be overkill when ten people have to give their take on a somewhat uninteresting negotiation with cable operators concerning subscriber fees.

Weighing in at almost 800 pages, Those Guys Have All the Fun… starts from the inception of ESPN, and describes the evolution of the network over 30 years, detailing the hiring and firing of most of the top executives, as well as almost all of the men and women who have worked on air for the network.

Most of the salacious details about office sex, newsroom blowups, and other controversies were excerpted on websites such as deadspin before the book’s release. If you’re looking for a detailed look at Erin Andrews’ personal life outside of her ESPN job, you’ll be disappointed. Some of those stories are told in the book, but they’re buried between 100 pages of information about Mark Shapiro, an arrogant, cut-throat young executive who rose to the head of programming for the network, and produced some of the network’s biggest flops.

The book shines when it covers the late 80′s and 90′s when the network was booming and it had already secured broadcast rights to the NFL, MLB, and NHL. Sportscenter was must-see-TV for sports fans, as well as athletes who wanted to see themselves and their peers on the nightly highlights.

Book Review: Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN
Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick, as would be expected, give the most interesting accounts of their time with ESPN. Olbermann was notorious for feuding with producers and executives, yet he was clearly a talented writer and broadcaster. When the network spun off another channel, ESPN 2, they were aiming at a younger demographic at first. Olbermann’s retelling of his arguments with producers about their desire for him to wear a leather jacket on air to look hipper, are hilarious.

For those curious about broadcast media, and the nuts and bolts of what goes into starting a network, as well as the early implementation of satellite feeds, you will be in for a treat with the first chapters of the book. Once Miller and Shales steer into the post-Disney acquisition of the network, and cover every single controversy (big or small), the book becomes somewhat of a drag, especially considering most of the events covered are still relatively fresh in sports fans’ minds.

For fans of the ESPN brand, the ESPY awards shows the network produces, and the self-serving “funny” commercials the network churns out, the book will probably be an enjoyable read. For others interested in sports, and the stars that play in the NFL, NBA, and MLB, it could be a long, painfully dull read.

-James Kries

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