Monday, June 27, 2011

PTU Book Club: Those Guys Have All The Fun

With the NBA season now in the rear view, and baseball approaching the slow, dog days of summer, I've resorted to other forms of entertainment to keep me from flipping out and hurling a Snapple bottle at someone, such as reading books. I'm not a huge reader, but the types of books that interest me usually involve people getting drunk or sports, especially those that are biographical. Thankfully for the rest of the people in New York that don't like Snapple bottles to the head as well as my own sanity, this summer saw the release of the much ballyhooed ESPN biography "Those Guys Have All The Fun" which is a biography of ESPN that has many stories involving drinking and sports. Win!

I was a big fan of authors James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales' Saturday Night Live oral history "Live From New York" that I received as a Christmas gift at some point this century and promptly finished while there was still tinsel sticking to my socks, and this ESPN tome follows the same formula of a history told entirely through quotes from the people who lived it. The book has received a considerable amount of both criticism and attention for it's more titillating content, and there is definitely some of that sprinkled through out, like the shocking story (revealed kind of matter of factly making it all the more shocking) that the New York ESPN offices in the early 80s were prostituting their secretaries. An executive from that time is quoted as saying that a couple of the girls were blowing Fed Ex delivery men after hours and becoming strung out on coke. The Hell??? Besides that crazy tidbit though, most of the fun is derived from listening to ESPN anchors and executives talking about each other in ways that aren't all that exceptional besides the fact that we don't get to hear people like Linda Cohn rank on Chris Berman or Tony Kornheiser throw jabs at Mike Tirico anywhere else in public, and that's fun for a little while (the married Tirico should probably be most embarrassed by the details revealed in the book, since he comes off as a lecherous, pompous asshole). Written conversations are always more forthcoming and controversial than the spoken word even if the people know that whoever they're talking about will eventually read what is said (same reason it's easier to tell someone off or talk junk in an e-mail or text than face to face).

Other than the gossip factor though, 90% of the more than 700 page epic is dedicated to boardroom stories involving financial mergers and acquisitions. The one knock I have on the book is that the constant business talk tends to get a little redundant after a while. There's only so many ways someone can tell a pithy anecdote about a huge corporation buying another slightly less huge corporation or how heated a meeting of shareholders was. Still, that doesn't take away from it being an enjoyable and informative read for the most part. For people like me who are a few years younger than the network itself, it's kind of cool to see how there was a time that ESPN didn't exist and there were numerous doubters who thought that no one would sit and watch sports or jerks talking about sports for 24 hours, 7 days a week. Salacious details and corporate jockeying aside, it's a little thrilling to see a media powerhouse develop from it's inception, even to a cynic like me.

I give it 3.5 out of 5 Bagels. Check it out, but maybe get a digital copy if you have a Kindle or Ipad or other hi-tech doo hickey. It's freakin' huge.

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