armchairquarterblog

MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro

In MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro on May 18, 2011 at 6:39 pm

The first time I ever traveled to Bristol, Connecticut to do a story on a then-fledgling new cable network called ESPN, I found myself interviewing Keith Olbermann one-on-one, before he really was Keith Olbermann.

That is to say, before he and Dan Patrick had actually become household names anywhere else but their own households. I found Olbermann to be charming, brilliant and hysterically funny. But as a former editor dealing with plenty of outsized egos at my own newspaper, I also knew this was one guy who surely was going to be a thorn in the side of anyone who had the unenviable task of being his immediate or even distant supervisor.

Olbermann spent a good portion of our time together moaning about not having an office, about not having a secretary, about being paid far less than he deserved and about being treated shabbily by the boobs in the executive suites who sometimes just never got his act – even if viewers were then falling in love with the SportsCenter tag team of Olbermann and Dan Patrick – far and away the best duo in the network’s history.

And now, along comes a new oral history by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales, the long-time, Pulitzer Prize-winning television critic for The Washington Post that confirms everything I ever witnessed up close and personal more than two decades ago. The book’s title tells you everything you need to know: Those Guys Have All The Fun: Inside The World of ESPN.

Here’s a sampling from an excerpt published in GQ Magazine:

Olbermann: “When I was at CNN, we used to look at ESPN as our comic relief, because for a long time, in terms of sports news, CNN was a ten-times-better product than ESPN. I used to look at my old friend [Chris] Berman sweating away in the studio without a teleprompter, trying to read his notes. I thought, Thank God that there’s somebody on the air in worse shape than we are. And then I finally figured out how they survived for nearly a decade with no funding: They were in the middle of nowhere. Across the street was a McDonald’s, what was always reputed to be a toxic-waste area, and cows. So unless you’re a free-lance dairyman, there was no place else to go.”

ESPN Producer Bill Wolff: “Chris Berman made that place. But the guy who made ESPN a household word, the guy who made ESPN mean something in the market to everyone, was Keith Olbermann. God, he was a genius. He just reinvented sportscasting by being the smartest guy who ever did it. And watching him in the mid-’90s was a pleasure. It was appointment viewing: What was Olbermann going to say that night.”

Dan Patrick: “I remember [producer] Gus Ramsey and Mike McQuade would always say, “Are you still in the life raft?” If they had screwed up with Keith, then they would be excommunicated. You didn’t know from day to day if you were on or off, and it was tough for them, because they didn’t have the power to say to Keith, “Hey, stop; grow up.” Everything he did was personal. And that was what made him great. And if he felt like you had just turned on him, then you had actually turned on him, and that was something that was very, very deep to him.”

Herb Granath, ESPN Chairman:“I was enraged by Olbermann. Guys like that just piss me off, you know, because there’s no loyalty. It’s just me, me, me. There was no choice but to get rid of him.”

Wolff: “Keith and authority don’t get along—ever. But he can also be one of the most loyal employees. Do not take a shot at Keith’s guys; he will protect them, always. But he was hard to manage—I mean hard! Keith is a dark guy. If you take everything Keith says at face value, you will find your reason for living diminished.”

More ESPN: The Worldwide Leader recently announced new endorsement guidelines for its on-air talent in the wake of major criticism of so many seeming conflicts of interest. They were best exemplified by Erin Andrews, a so-called sideline reporter, having a deal with Reebok which she will now have to give up.

They’re also going to make SportsCenter anchor Scott Van Pelt end his deal to promote Titleist golf, something that never should have been allowed in the first place. In reading over the lengthy memo explaining the new procedures, nowhere did I see Chris Berman’s name mentioned, a travesty for a guy who never met a commercial endorsement he couldn’t embrace – from beer companies to restaurant chains and weight-loss products.

Until Berman, who often anchors a news desk during major events, stops plugging products, the new policy won’t be worth the paper it’s written on.

Dr. Jack Ramsay…A long drive back home from a road trip to Pennsylvania was made oh so much more pleasant when I heard the familiar voice of  Dr. Jack Ramsay providing the color analysis on the national ESPN Radio broadcast of the seventh game of the Memphis-Oklahoma City playoff game Sunday night.

Dr. Jack piled up 864 victories in his Hall of Fame coaching career in the NBA, including the 1977 world championship with the Portland Trailblazers. He’s now 86, but judging from his prescient and precise commentary, he clearly hasn’t lost a step. Just for old times and old timer’s sake, wouldn’t it be nice if ESPN/ABC or TNT assigned Dr. Jack to a game in the conference finals over the next few weeks?

Tough Talk… Former PGA Tour player Brandel Chamblee is becoming one of the most outspoken voices on The Golf Channel, a man who’s not afraid to speak his mind, particularly when it comes to Tiger Woods.

In a conference call with reporters the day before The Players started, he said, “I think there’s a really good chance that he’ll be gone before he was last year (when Woods missed the cut). Even though he said yesterday that his knee was fine, Tiger Woods has been all over the map, we know that and this is a Pete Dye golf course that’s all over the map. There are bunkers, there are mounds. So it’s not very hard to imagine Woods in a situation where one knee is two feet higher than the other and he’s got to make a golf swing. It’s fairly likely he’s going to re-injure himself playing this golf course.

We’ve watched Tiger age so rapidly right before our eyes,” he said. “Right before our eyes we’re watching him where he’s shuffling off the course. It’s really sad to watch what’s going on with Woods on the range where this phenomenal athlete with the former best swing perhaps of all time is now in a sense kind of an old man out there . . . going through all of the moves that look like he’s handicapped . . . trying to reverse the moves that don’t come naturally to him. It’s really sad to see someone of that talent going through what he’s going through right now.”

The next day, Woods played nine holes, shot 42 and left the premises.

Leonard Shapiro can be reached at badgerlen@aol.comor badgerlen at twitter. His latest book, Golf List Mania, is available at local bookstores and Amazon.com.


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