SUPERTUBE: The Rise of Television Sports by Ron Powers

SUPERTUBE: The Rise of Television Sports

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An informal history of sports-broadcasting in radio and television--with Powers' ironic, often-frenetic narration focusing on personalities, on anecdotal details, on cultural generalizations and rhetorical interpretations. For Powers, the whole thing begins with A. Craig Smith, a 1930s adman who got the Gillette company into radio's first sports sponsorship. (""He seemed hooked into some light source that no one else could see, this small damp man with the shined shoes. . . ."") And Red Barber's improvised baseball announcing became ""the first important welding of sports and airwaves."" But--Powers' most insistent point throughout--the new medium of television did not embrace the potential in sportscasting: sports ""forced their way into the mainstream of TV programming only after decades of indifference and active hostility on the part of the highest network executives."" Why? Apathy, fear of sports' unpredictability, class snobbery. (""Paley and Sarnoff weren't interested in sports, unless you counted polo and golf."") So again it was visionary ad-men who pushed and plotted: Smith came up with the Gillette Cavalcade (with the ""ultimate jingle"" and an ""attitude about the contest""); Ed Scherick brought Falstaff beer to ABC for Game of the Week, featuring Dizzy Dean, the ""first modern TV sportscaster"" (in his ""instinctive appreciation for the power of the self-created on-air persona""); Falstaff's sponsorship changed NFL history circa 1956. And only ABC, ""the barbarians"" of network TV, finally decided to go all-out for sports--stealing the NCAA football contract from NBC, getting ruthless, and (above all) hiring Roone Arledge, Powers' quasi-hero here. ""WE ARE GOING TO ADD SHOW BUSINESS TO SPORTS!"" That was Arledge's credo, with his raw instincts and background of ""enlightenment"" at Columbia U. (""From Trilling. . . Arledge began to understand the elemental appeal of story. . . ."") He was abetted by Pete Rozelle, media-wise super-negotiator. The results were Wide World of Sports, Monday Night Football, Howard Cosell (his ""primal hunger to belong"" makes him the embodiment of the medium), and dazzling Olympics coverage: in the 1960s Arledge functioned most purely ""as a video artist, seizing an all but discarded program motif and rehabilitating it with a narrative voice of its own, an intensely intimate visual look. . . ."" So now, despite the scandals and hustles and overkill of the 1970s, ""Television rules American sports utterly."" Nothwithstanding the overstatements, rhetorical excesses (italics galore), and jazzy/glossy approach: lively treatment of intriguing media material--especially in the earlier years and the ad-agency angles.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1983
Publisher: Coward-McCann