'Those Guys Have All the Fun': Read our review of the much-discussed ESPN history

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The sports world is abuzz with talk of James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales’ new oral history of ESPN, Those Guys Have All the Fun, in stores today. But is it any good? Here’s an early look at our review, which is in the issue on stands this Friday:

Those Guys Have All the Fun
James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales
Nonfiction

James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales insist in the intro to this oral history that “it would take a dozen or more weighty volumes to provide an all-encompassing account of ESPN.” Those Guys is just a single volume, but it’s hard to fathom what they left out. At 745 pages, it’s a mammoth chronicle of a niche channel that, as Fox Sports chairman David Hill points out, something like 299 million Americans “don’t give a rat’s ass about.” The book is hotly anticipated among SportsCenter obsessives, who’ve been panting over the prospect of clashing big shots, frat-boy antics, and anti–Keith Olbermann venom. Miller and Shales deliver all that, along with a whole lot more—probably too much more if you’re not a drooling ESPN junkie.

Compiled from more than 550 interviews, Those Guys traces ESPN from its birth as an underdog to its current status as a money-printing behemoth. Some of the best sections deal with the early days of cable, when the network invented itself through savvy business decisions and slow-pitch-softball coverage. But it’s the big libidos and bigger egos that will get the most attention. The book is packed with entertaining stories of unpleasant people and awful behavior: booze-fueled boorishness, absurdly arrogant execs, and the endlessly fascinating Olbermann, whom ex–SportsCenter anchor Charley Steiner describes as “intellectually…a genius and socially…a special-needs student.”

Miller and Shales offer compelling behind-the-scenes tales of many major sports moments, including the Rush Limbaugh–Donovan McNabb flap and ESPN’s takeover of Monday Night Football. Those Guys is padded with too many historical footnotes and dull anecdotes (wow, Peyton Manning remembers Chris Berman sitting in with Hootie & the Blowfish?). But for anyone who does give a rat’s ass about Chris Berman, Dan Patrick, Tony Kornheiser, et al., it provides an impressive account of the network’s embarrassments and victories. B+ –Rob Brunner

Follow me on twitter: @RobBrunnerEW

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  • Your mom

    Should be a good read for the content alone… I hope there’s plenty of TK Stack Money in it!

    • pass

      ESPN sucks, their coverage of the NFL and especially the NBA is terrible, I am looking forward to the day when NBC carries the NBA again

  • ESPN fan

    Wait… Fox has a sports channel?

  • rerun

    You’re with me Leather.

    • PHD

      now THATS funny…

      i will be getting this book and might now get their SNL one too.

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  • JED

    This is not a Tell-All book. I have some personal stories with these people that would have been great for this book.

    • KeeKeeDee

      I don’t watch it, but you’re right Jon. ESPN often ranks among the most-watched cable networks each week, and a big game sometimes pushes it above the broadcast networks.

      • Auth

        Johnny 2 words, Eat More . I love following you guys on line. When is Conviction Crossfit cmniog to Pueblo. Can’t warm up in the hot box for ever down here.

  • Jon

    I think it’s ridiculous to call ESPN a “niche channel.” It’s not the Soap Opera Network or something. Sports is king in the U.S., and around the world for that matter. Often even non-hardcore fans keep track of certain teams and events, and as ESPN has grown, they’ve covered more than just sports highlights. With the way athletes have become part of our pop culture, the things they do are much bigger news — whether it’s a controversial tweet or a crime they’ve committed or a charity event they’re hosting. ESPN is the very opposite of a niche channel. I would guess it’s the most watched across-every-demographic network on TV.

    • Fred

      I’m not sure if you know the exact definition of niche? It just means that it covers one topic (sports). The size of the channel is irrelevant. It fails to be niche when it covers more than one topic,like abc with news, entertainment, etc.

  • jd

    espn has went from an underdog channel about sports to a behemoth who at times need to reminded they cover sports.

    i stopped watching espn a long time ago (except for the games). they have become too self obsessed and too much E and not enough S in ESPN.

    • rey

      very true. i stopped watching espn as well. i now get my news from the sports specific channels.

      if i want to know who derek jeter is sleeping with. i check out espn. if i want to know who is batting sixth for the cardinals. i’ll watch mlb tv.

    • Elizabeth

      Third!
      I was wondering why the lights were turned on at Progressive Field this morning when I was driving in and heard Mike & Mike were doing their show there. Indians aren’t good enough to cover (a) without invoking LeBron and (b) if they aren’t playing anyone not from Boston or NY, but we have to keep the lights on for those jackwagons. Unreal…

      • dpal

        Ummm you must not be keeping up with sports then. The Indians have the best record in all of baseball. They are first in their division, leading Detroit by 7 games… and currently have a better record than both the Yankees and the Red Sox.

    • ESPN fan

      Wow. ESPN can’t cover every team and every sport to the extent that a local sports network or, say, the NFL channel can. That’s some brilliant analysis. You must have a Ph.D. In Obvious.

      As a sports fan, ESPN gives me everything from soccer (MLS and Euro) to the college Lax tourney. If you’re only a fan of your local team… You’re not a sports fan and ESPN probably isn’t for you. Try the Oprah Winfrey Network, that might be more to your liking.

  • DeeCee

    Then your guess would be wrong. Very wrong.

  • joblo

    Jumanji! He’s not my-vidas, he’s not your-vidas, he’s ARvidas!

    • Elizabeth

      I miss Kilby :( And frankly all the other anchors who aren’t nerd fergusons who were shoved into lockers back in the day and now are exacting their revenge by anchoring the desk.

  • JimmyH

    ESPN has, in my opinion, ruined sports in America. From the ridiculous amounts of money they throw at these leagues (which has increased player salary at the same time) to the infuriating scroll at the bottom of the screen. I bought an HDTV to watch sports in HD. Not to see every score of every other game I couldn’t care less about. ESPN sux!

  • JB

    I hope that David Hill does know that if it wasn’t for ESPN, he wouldn’t have the job that he does.

  • Brock

    A “niche” channel?!? That’s absurd – ESPN’s immense viewership allows it to charge cable companies subscriber fees that are several times more than any other network (ESPN charges an unrivaled $5.13 per subscriber per month in carriage fees, compared to $.5-.20 for the average cable channel).

    Many of us who don’t even care for ESPN’s coverage are compelled to watch simply because they have a near monopoly in the television rights to every major sport (MLB, NFL, NCAA, NBA), save the NHL. ESPN is the furthest thing from a “niche channel” there is.

  • Andy

    ESPN _is_ a niche channel. Just because Jon cares about sports doesn’t mean that the rest of us do. You are deluding yourselves if you think “non-hardcore” fans give a rat’s ass. Your wife has just been playing along because at least then you’ll talk to her.

    Lady Gaga is part of the pop culture too. How much do you care what her last outfit looked like?

    • Justin

      Well in that case CBS, NBC, ABC are all niche channels because ESPN is f’ing GLOBAL you D>umbass! It’s in MULTIPLE CONTINENTS! How many channels can say that? Zero Dips>hit.

      • Anon

        CNN

      • Anon

        BBC

      • Anon

        Al Jazeera

  • Belle

    Keith Oblberman as “intellectually…a genius and socially…a special-needs student.” LOL! I have always liked Charley Steiner

  • Big D

    Wow, I love ESPN, and I remember back in the 80’s (before the internet made all knowledge instantly available) watching for hours at a time. It was so cool we couldn’t believe it existed. No more waiting around to hear a 2 minute sports update, now you had constant sports news, awesome. But 700 pages?! I’ll take a look, but I don’t know if that’s how I want to spend my reading time.

  • TR

    I don’t think “niche” channels normally have shows (Monday Night Football) that average 14.7 million viewers (2010 season).

    • Dan

      Sports is a niche (albeit large one) that exists in our culture. But at it’s fundamental basis it’s a niche channel. Much like E! Is with entertainment. It’s not a niche channel when it covers many things.. Like the networks that have..

    • Dan

      .. Their hands in a little bit of everything. Espn is solely about sports so therefore it’s a popular niche channel

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