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ESPN Book Doesn’t Miss A Thing

Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN
James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales
Little, Brown and Company (May 2011)

After reading Live From New York, an anthology on the long-standing TV show Saturday Night Live, expectations for Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN were high. James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales did a fantastic job of piecing together a multitude of interviews to create a thorough history of cable network ESPN.

The volume of information and amount of people to interview was intensive and the two authors pieced the history together well. With a good mix of major events and turning points with smaller sidebar stories on the intimacies that went on behind the scenes, Those Guys Have All the Fun had all the makings of tell-all book about a sporting subculture’s favorite network.

Especially in the beginning and into the middle of the book, there was a large focus on the big events that led to ESPN’s success and “rise to world dominance” as the authors called it. But smaller stories thrown in really honed in on the character of ESPN, an insider look if you will. This trend became largely the norm when it came toward the end of the book when it reached modern time and focused on pretty much every major event in which ESPN was part of the story (Erin Andrews, The Decision, etc.).

Overall, the book gives a deep look into ESPN’s culture, which is a big reason for its success. What started out as the little-engine-that-could mentality eventually propelled ESPN into garnering rights to major league events, the creation of the X Games, the acquisition and successful execution of the 2010 World Cup, and much more.

Though now in the modern age, and since ESPN has obviously reached an unprecedented power over sports coverage, it seems counterintuitive to still function this way. This became a struggle for the employees interviewed for the book. Some thought the culture that existed was great and thoroughly enjoyed working there, while others thought the behaviors antiquated.

The book is an enjoyable and informative read for anyone, working at ESPN or not, and touched on a number of things readers might be surprised to discover. The portion about the ESPY awards was interesting because it seems the awards show didn’t really find its legs until late in the game. In cataloging the first ESPYs, the authors piece together interviews about Jimmy Valvano and the lead-up to the event. Talk about the emotion of Valvano and its impact on the reader. If you cried watching Valvano’s speech, you will definitely cry listening to the events leading up to and during it.

In general, the behind-the-scenes look the reader is able to get into similar events brought a whole new understanding and outlook on ESPN. Though it is clear at points with higher-up interviews some criticism about ESPN was warranted, for the most part, a new light was shone on the decision-making of the network.

One thing brought to life for me was sideline reporters. I wrote a particularly chastising column about the merits of sideline reporters, and how I felt the inane points they made on the sideline were trivial, uninteresting and did not contribute to the betterment of the fan’s knowledge about the game. After reading Those Guys Have All the Fun, I now have a greater understanding of their role. The women who have been placed in those roles told about the struggle they faced with production in reducing their role and changing what they wanted sideline reporters to accomplish. It was essentially production pulling the plug on asking the intelligent or supplemental reports that garner the need for a sideline reporter in the first place.

Those Guys Have All the Fun truly seems to live up to its title. The book is everything a reader would ever want to know about the network and much more. The comprehensive history builds the story of a father-son idea into what became an international brand of all-sports success. Though there is much that happened in the 30-plus years of the network’s existence, Miller and Shales make the reader feel like they didn’t miss anything at all.

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