UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL: The Inside Story of Network Television Sports by Jim with David Diles Spence

UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL: The Inside Story of Network Television Sports

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Absorbing, albeit ramshackle, reminiscences from a veteran TV executive whose network career neatly bracketed what was probably the medium's golden sports era. Fresh out of the Army in 1960, Spence started with ABC Sports as a production assistant, i.e., gofer. Rising through the ranks, he was named senior vice president in 1977 and put in charge of an organization that ranks among the more significant in TV sports. By the author's account, he forced the issue, insisting on a formal promotion when his notoriously ambitious boss, Roone Arledge, was diverted by News Division responsibilities. Granted the authority he sought, Spence ran the show for eight more years, leaving when Capital Cities (which had bought ABC) declined to make him head man in name as well as fact. During his 25-year tenure, Spence had a behind-the-scenes hand in putting on the air ABC's Wide World of Sports, NFL Monday Night Football, and other creative programs that helped the also-ran outfit achieve parity with its broadcasting rivals. He also shares much of the blame for introducing Superstars, the prototypical junk-sports series. On a bottom-line basis--the way Spence and his industry fellows tend to view sports--he still managed to amass more credits than debits. As the author makes clear, though, bidding for major events has reached unsustainable heights. To illustrate, rights to the recently concluded Winter Olympics in Calgary, which Spence helped negotiate, cost ABC a cool $309 million (less than NBC paid for the Summer Games in Seoul, owing to time-zone and profit problems). In addition to offering a wealth of inside stories on the megabuck aspects of the Kentucky Derby, World Series, NBA Playoffs, and other big-time competitions, Spence dishes the dirt on well-known personalities. Howard Cosell comes off as a genuinely nasty piece of work; in like vein, the author settles old scores with the duplicitous Arledge and plays hardball with erstwhile counterparts at other networks. Spence has somewhat kinder words, however, for Frank Gifford, Jim McKay, Don Meredith, Chris Schenkel, O.J. Simpson, and scores of less celebrated professionals who work at the broadcaster's trade. Fine anecdotal fare, then, for fans willing to sit through a less than systematic rundown on the off-screen realities of TV sports.

Pub Date: June 13th, 1988
Publisher: Atheneum