Those Guys Have All the Fun

by James Andrew Miller & Tom Shales

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Recommended by John Warner

Note: Unlike most books on The Staff Recommends, this is an unpaid recommendation. But we think you’ll enjoy it, so we’re featuring it anyway.

Here’s a test to see if this book will be of interest to you.

1. Have you watched Irish hurling and/or Australian rules football on television, probably sometime in late 1979 or early 1980?
2. Does the phrase, “The Big Show,” mean anything to you?
3. Could you identify Gayle Gardner in a lineup?
4. Can you correctly use “boo-yah” in a sentence?

If you answered “yes” to at least three of the four, then you (like me) likely have had a better than thirty-year relationship with ESPN, and will be fascinated by the exhaustive oral history of the network and its people.

Shales and Miller previously collaborated on Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, as Told by Its Stars, Writers and Guests, another oral history of a cultural institution, and they repeat the formula here, via one-on-one interviews they manage to get all kinds of people who normally wouldn’t talk so much crap about each other to spill some truths.

The fancy name for this is “oral history,” but that’s cover for what’s going on here, which is free-flowing gossip, self-aggrandizement, and rampant score settling. The origin story of the network reads like some kind of caper that never should’ve been pulled off, a series of accidentally brilliant moves giving birth to what would become one of the most ubiquitous brands in the entire world. The middle section gets underneath the most public drama of the network (i.e., The Olbermann Years), but there’s plenty of more intrigue left, including some things you never would’ve suspected about Mike Tirico.

This sucker is long, but once you’re in the stream, it flies by, almost impossible to put down. The interviews are exhaustive, stones turned and then turned again. It’s the story of America, written about a television network.

John Warner is the editor of The Staff Recommends and the author of Fondling Your Muse: Infallible Advice From a Published Author to the Writerly Aspirant.

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