Sheer Genius and Dumb Luck: The Rise of a Cultural Behemoth

Cover Art: Those Guys Have All the Fun by James A. Miller and Tom ShalesThere was a time when ESPN’s Chris “Boomer” Berman was my only friend and I actually grasped the nuances of Australian Rules Football. I tend to think of that period as my own personal dark ages—meaning I spent my time in a perpetual gloom, positing lots of benighted theories of how the universe works, bathing very little, and living on a diet of root vegetables and beer.

Like me at the time, ESPN was just finding its way in the world. It’s hard to fathom now, but a lot of bold print names with deep pockets doubted the viability of an all-sports network, so ESPN started as a “let’s-put-on-a-show-in-the-barn” operation that happened to be one of the first cable stations to own (laughably cheap) space on RCA’s Satcom I satellite.

The all-sports-all-the-time concept was the invention of a down-at-the-heels father and son team (subsequently squeezed out when people who actually knew what they were doing got their collective foot in the door). Like many such enterprises, ESPN’s success was equal parts cut-throat Borgia-style ambition, talented—if cranky--people, good timing, and sheer dumb luck. And like most such stories, the early struggles are more interesting to read than the stories looking down from the top, but James Miller and Tom Shales have compiled a highly readable oral history that, with its competing perspectives (and compulsive credit-taking) by most of the big and little players in the saga, has more than a little bit of a Rashomon feel to it.

Those Guys Have All the Fun by James A. Miller and Tom Shales