An in-depth but at times tedious look at the lucky breaks and egotistical personalities behind the rise of the ESPN behemoth. Written in 2011, the book does not address the issue of cord-cutting (people abandoning cable televsion) that has arisen in the past few years, leading to the financial pressure on ESPN, and Disney that owns them. If you subscribe to cable TV, you are paying more than seven dollars per month to ESPN, even if you don’t watch a minute of their programming. The book is not hagiography, not fawning, but sympathetic to the notion that sports programming is something glorious and awesome to behold. Recommended only for those interested in the minutia of this former juggernaut.
I suppose if you're truly interested in every single detail of the rise of ESPN, this book would be essential. For someone looking for a casual read, this 763-page tome was just more than I could handle at the moment. I do really enjoy the style of jumping from one narrator to another, allowing the book's subjects to tell their own stories and then weaving them together like a quilt. However, I thought this effect was done better in the piece about "The National" on grantland.com.
I thoroughly enjoyed this oral history of ESPN. The style did occasionally lead to repetition and sometimes jumped from topic to topic without any real rhyme or reason, however that minor flaw can be overlooked do the vast content provided in this book. Starting from day one of an early cable station and taking you through the current multi-platform juggernaut, this book takes everyone’s stories and experiences and puts them side by side. Hearing everyone pile on Keith Olbermann, various executives having very different memories of why certain decisions were made, and seeing how the business evolved are the highlights of this book. As someone who has come of age as a sports fan primarily through watching ESPN, I found this book to be a fantastic way to remember many of the great sports moments of my life as well as how I had that news delivered to me; primarily by watching Sportscenter. While the size may seem intimidating, the style makes it easy to jump in and out at your leisure. This book can be enjoyed quickly over a couple weeks or slowly over several months.
It’s a truism that ESPN changed the way we watch sports. From modest beginning in 1979 Connecticut, when father-son team Bill and Scott Rasmussen maxed out their credit cards to launch it, ESPN has grown (some might say metastasized) into a global phenomenon, with eight channels covering everything from baseball to poker (not, emphatically, a sport) to Australian rules football, more than 65 sports in more than 250 countries. This book is an oral history, in which two prominent TV critics conduct more than 500 interviews with the likes of Keith Olbermann, Tony Kornheiser, Peyton Manning, Barry Melrose and Erin Andrews to take us deep inside the network’s workings and mindset, and into the locker rooms of the sports world. Cable sports fans will relish the parade of outsize egos and trivial rivalries on display.
Globe & Mail May 27 2011
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