Thursday, August 18, 2011

As promised, more high-larious excerpts from that ESPN book

At this point I feel like I'm shilling for the book. Which wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, it's a pretty interesting read and all. But I promise you, unlike that one time Jeff Pearlman sent me a copy of Love Me, Hate Me for free because I made fun of him for knowing nothing about baseball and then I plugged it here, I have no allegiance towards Those Guys Have All the Fun. Just thought I'd share some more of ESPN's fucknuttery with you.

Oh, before I do, and speaking of being a shill, it's TMQ season again. I'll tackle his first installment of the season this weekend, but his opening line is too good not to larf at right now.

Though commissioner Roger Goodell just led a collective-bargaining negotiation that resulted in NFL players being showered with money and benefits, according to Steelers Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison, Goodell is "a crook" and "the devil."

Hold on, play that first part back again.

Though commissioner Roger Goodell just led a collective-bargaining negotiation that resulted in NFL players being showered with money and benefits,

Though commissioner Roger Goodell just led a collective-bargaining negotiation that resulted in NFL players being showered with money and benefits,

Though commissioner Roger Goodell just led a collective-bargaining negotiation THAT RESULTED IN NFL PLAYERS BEING SHOWERED WITH MONEY AND BENEFITS,


/wipes tears from eyes

Watch your back, Peter King. There's a new shill for the league offices making the rounds. And his ability to spin the truth and ignore basic but essential facts puts yours to shame.

Anyways, back to the ESPNery. First, let's talk about Mark Shapiro. Shapiro started at ESPN straight out of college in the early 90s. He was brash and loudmouthed and the book describes how he was nearly fired after only a few weeks on the job. He managed to stick, though, because he had incredible talent for production. He was responsible for the execution of SportsCentury and a lot of good shit on ESPN Classic. So he quickly shot up the ranks because of his talent.

And herein lies the problem, a problem that affects rising superstars in many/most industries: when you're really, really good at something, eventually you get promoted to management and start gaining control over a) stuff that's unrelated to the area where you cut your teeth and b) lots and lots of people. But what if your talents don't really expand beyond that teeth-cutting arena, and what if you have atrocious personnel management skills? Unfortunately those things often end up not mattering. And so we have Mark Shapiro, genius producer, who by his early 30s was doing a lot more than producing. He was making decisions about a lot of very important and ambitious stuff that shaped ESPN's overall direction. He was in charge of programming, which is a whole lot different than being in charge of producing something that someone else came up with and told you to produce. This is when the shit started hitting the fan.

Before reading the book I knew the name and knew some of his ESPN history- I knew he was responsible for a lot of shitty projects and shows back in the early part of the 00s. But boy, I had no idea he was this prolific. Please click that link and glance down the list. It doesn't even credit him for Dream Job, but according to the book, yup, that was him as well. Basically he came in swinging his big dick and set fire to ESPN's legitimacy as a sports network (which I'd say was relatively intact as of 2001, when he rose to head of programming). Nearly every bomb he was in charge of conceptualizing/executing wasn't really about sports. The way Sports Media Watch describes it in that link is pretty accurate- he was trying to MTVize ESPN's stuff. Make it EDGIER and HIPPER and "like [name of popular non-sports related show that already exists on another network], but with some sports thrown in."

He was a ratings whore, brought in to generate attention and viewers. He claims in the book that when he left, ratings had risen for eight straight quarters. Assuming this is true, I have absolutely zero desire to even guess what percentage of that increase is actually due to his work. I'm going to guess it's well south of 100. When he was named head of programming in 2001, ratings had been falling for a couple years. But that's probably largely attributable to the explosion of digital cable around that time, dramatically increasing the number of channels people got in their homes. This is pure speculation from me, but given 1) that Shapiro comes off as exactly like the kind of person who would gladly take credit for something they didn't do, 2) the fact that it's extremely difficult to attribute ratings increases solely to one person, even if they are head of programming; and 3) the number of atrocious shows he launched, it's unlikely he was nearly as successful as he'd like you to believe.

To be fair, he came up with some hits (PTI, Around the Horn, Outside the Lines Daily). But man... LOOK AT THE SPORTS MEDIA WATCH LIST AGAIN. HOLY BALLS. This guy really shat out some miserable ideas. The book portrays him and his ideas in a very positive light, really gives him the kid gloves treatment. That's fine, that's bound to happen when you're given the access the book's authors were given for something like this, but it is a little disappointing. They picked up a few quotes from other employees who were willing to say that Shapiro was a real stumpfucker (see below) but mostly he's portrayed as a megawondergenius who occasionally rubbed people the wrong way but mostly was an essential cog in the company machine. My perception doesn't align with that but you can read the book for yourself and decide just how important he and his ideas were.

Anyways Shapiro eventually left ESPN in 2005 to work for fellow megawondergenius Dan Snyder as the CEO of Six Flags. As you probably know, in 2009 Six Flags filed for bankruptcy. So draw your own conclusions about Shapiro's management skills from that. In any case, did I mention that he had/was a big swinging dick? I believe I did. In the words of ESPN Marketing Exec Lee Ann Daly:

There should have been more of a real search for people to put around Mark before he got put into such a high-level position. Mark was the kind of person who just wanted to bark in everybody's face, to make them go away so he could do what he wanted to do. He was very much like "I know what's best and everybody just needs to shut up and go away." He wanted to tell everybody how it was going to be and that you just needed to accept it. That was, I think, very destructive.

Well there you go! That general opinion is corroborated by a handful of other people throughout the book, but let's get some of Mark's greatness in Mark's own words.

Re: negotiating a TV rights deal for NBA games

David Stern was by far the best and most intimidating negotiator I'd ever faced. No one stands up to David,

No one?

and to have me standing up to him,

Ohhhhhh. I see.

not just once, but multiple times over the course of the relationship . . . . never went well.

Isn't this quote just dripping with the same self-importance those Berman quotes I posted Monday had? It's great. I AM SPECIAL AND DIFFERENT HEAR ME ROAR. (Coincidentally, Berman and Shapiro hated each other. Wonder why?) Anyways, Stern wasn't the only commissioner Shapiro (probably) aggressively insulted to his face. Remember how ESPN lost the rights to NHL games about 8 or 9 years ago? Yup. Barry Melrose says:

Shapiro and Bettman came to hate each other. And Gary is a lawyer and a tough negotiator, and I think he felt that ESPN was trying to take advantage of the NHL and lowball them with the price.

And that's how OLN/Versus ended up with those games. Good job Shapiro! Fred Gaudelli, a former Coordinating Producer who was with ESPN for about twenty years and left around the same time Shapiro did:

What they did to the National Hockey League was insane. From the time that I got to ESPN to the time that I left, our philosophy was that we wanted to be known as people who you want to be in business with; we wanted to be good partners, and have good relationships with the leagues. We didn't want to thump our chests at them, and we didn't want to thump our chests at the media. As a result, ESPN for a long time had a reputations for being really good guys who do good work.

When Mark came in, he brought an arrogance. His regime or style, however you want to put it

That's hilarious.

was basically the turning point for ESPN going from the good guy to the arrogant guy. I don't care what they tell you, ESPN is not well liked at 280 Park [NFL headquarters], the are not well liked at the NBA, and they are not well liked at Major League Baseball. So you saw it in their relationships with partners, and you saw it on the air with the way they overpromoted the stupidest things, like the Bobby Knight movie.

Or Cold Pizza.

And that's what Mark brought to the company. ESPN had always been a place where you could have productive discourse. That's what made the place--that people were free to disagree, free to argue, and free to make your point, but at the end of the day, whoever was in charge when they made the decision, everybody got on board. That was just the way it was. That was not the way Mark Shapiro operated.

That pretty much explains everything you need to know about Shapiro. He's been gone from ESPN for about six years but his legacy lives on in steaming piles of garbage like "Who's Now" and the fact that Sportscenter runs shit like this instead of just showing highlights and adding a little non-sensational analysis. Thanks Mark. You made blogs like FireJay possible. How did you feel as you were winding down your tenure at ESPN and preparing to help run a large amusement park chain directly into the ground?

When I look back on my final year, it's with a great sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

Color me shocked! We've all met a few Mark Shapiros throughout the course of our lives, haven't we? I know I have. May they all be kicked in the balls by a horse, and soon. Before I wrap up, let's hit a few more highlights.

Stuart Scott:

I can't be that concerned with how I'm perceived. I care about how my mother and father think about me and how my friends and how my loved ones think about me. I care about how my ex-wife thinks about me; she and I are still good friends and we do a good job raising our kids. It matters to me. But it doesn't matter to me what people who are writing a blog on the Internet think. I can't think about that.

If you buy that, I have some oceanfront property in Arizona you might be interested in. Also: he leaves open the possibility that he cares a lot about the opinions of people who write non-internet blogs.

Jay Lovinger, an editor who has had the privilege of working extensively with the guy who I only make fun of because I'm super jealous and want to be him:

Bill's obviously good for the company, it's just that he's an incredibly pain-in-the-ass guy to work with. You don't really edit him. He turns in his thing, you suggest stuff, he writes "Stet all changes," on the copy, you fight with him over things, he goes to Walsh or Skipper (high level execs) to complain, and you say to yourself, "I don't need this grief." His goal is to get you to the point where it's such a pain in the neck that you just put the stuff through--unless there's something you're going to get sued over.

I also edited Olbermann, at Sports Illustrated. He was a pain in the ass and a whining little baby, but ultimately he was more professional that Simmons. If you edited Keith, he'd whine and scream as if you had betrayed him in some way, but then he'd read the thing, and if the editing was actually helpful, he'd respond--unlike Bill, who would just say no. Bill's thing is "I know what I'm doing, so that's it." You know: "Don't touch anything." It was more satisfying editing Olbermann.

Anytime you are a bigger baby and more difficult to work with than Keith fucking Olbermann, you've got some serious problems. Berman... Shapiro... Simmons... they have something in common. They all seem to know everything. HEY MAYBE THEY SHOULD BE THE ONES FIGURING OUT THIS WHOLE NATIONAL DEBT MESS, HUH?


Bill's boy Kimmel steps in to half-heartedly advocate on his behalf:

We started corresponding, and when I got a talk show, I hired him to be one of the writers. He's a character. He likes analyzing the show more than writing for it.

He's also not particularly funny and has all of three or four gags that he recycles in every column. Which is probably why your first season kind of sucked taint and why he no longer works for you.

Simmons was suspended for two weeks in late 2009 for ripping WEEI in Boston because the station was a member of the ESPN family of networks. He appeared on the station's morning show to promote his Book of Basketball, and that afternoon a different set of DJs took some shots at him He responded via Twitter, and was then given a slap on the wrist for being a bad team player. His thoughts:

My attitude was, you guys aren't handling this. You have let this fester and it's become a real issue in Boston with these guys killing me for two weeks. I have a thick skin,

BWAHAHAHA. Hardest you've made me laugh in a good long while. Naturally Simmons's response to the situation described in the link was to accuse Price of being the thin-skinned one. Lulz upon lulz upon lulz.

I'm fading fast so I'm not going to be able to get to the debacles that were the Tirico/Theismann/Kornheiser and Tirico/Jaworski/Kornheiser Monday Night Football experiences. Maybe next time. I'll leave you with some Stephen A. Smith. Like I said in the last post Stephen A. actually comes off as very smart in the book. Predictably though, he thinks pretty highly of Stephen A. Smith. His thoughts when he was told in early 2009 that his contract would not be renewed:

What people need to remember is I was a general columnist for the magazine, I was a columnist for, I was a radio host for ESPN Radio, I was a television host for Quite Frankly on ESPN2, and I was the NBA analyst for ESPN. And then, by one person's wand, it was gone. Because everything was under their umbrella, I was out of five jobs! Not many people are talented enough to have five jobs--but I did.

Yeah, those 45 minutes a month you spent writing your online and magazine columns really took a lot out of you, huh? And then you tack on 30 minutes a day for Quite Frankly, a regular radio program (no idea how much he worked, I'll be generous and say 3 hours a day on weekdays although I doubt it was that much) and a couple hours a week during basketball season for NBA analysis? Who are you, Bradley Cooper's character in that brain drug movie from last winter?

Oh by the way, do you know who hired Stephen A.? Hint: if you read the Sports Media Watch countdown piece carefully, you already know.


Chris W said...

Re Stephen Smith: don't forget his my blog

Biggus Rickus said...

Shapiros fuck up everything.

First Name Last Initial said...

Only thing dumber than people claiming that you are jealous of Simmons...Your sarcastic disclaimer that you are jealous of Simmons.

Otherwise solid.

Now make sure to say something bitchy about my comment.

Chris W said...

Those two things are unconnected

Larry B said...

First/last- I would rather get your comment than a comment left by a Simmons fanboy claiming that I'm you-know-what of you-know-who. And so the sarcastic disclaimers shall continue.

cs said...

For the record, I find the sarcastic disclaimers amusing.

So, does Stephen A. Smith now work for Six Flags?

As for Bill Simmons - I'm curious what people think of Grantland. I check it out every so often, and I'm pretty unimpressed by the articles and it feels stiff or something.

Adam said...

It feels like a bunch of Simmons sycophants trying to emulate his style. One is more than enough, thank you.