TV sports executives and announcers are a notoriously thin-skinned lot. Its no wonder, then, that the talk of the business right now is former ABC exec Jim Spence's kiss-and-tell memoir. Donald Regan has nothing on Jim the Ripper. In Up Close and Personal: The Inside Story of Network Television Sports, Spence has whetted the knife and gone a-carving.
Spence was at ABC Sports for 25 years, the last six as a senior vice-president, until Capital Cities Communications took over the network in 1986. His book, published by Atheneum, is informative but disconcerting. It may be titillating to see Howard Cosell, Roone Arledge and others get theirs at the hands of a former associate, but it isn't pretty.
According to Spence, Cosell was, by the end of his ABC years, a drunk, bully, hypocrite, liar and something of a lecher. Spence does say that at one time Cosell was a man of principle and courage, and he all but guarantees that Cosell was never unfaithful to his wife, Emmy. But an inebriated Cosell supposedly threw up on Don Meredith's new cowboy boots during a 1970 Monday Night Football telecast. Another scene has Cosell, in a crude attempt to be funny, unbuttoning the blouse of Spence's secretary until she calls his bluff and he stops out of embarrassment.
Spence clearly resented never getting hosannas from Arledge, his boss. Arledge comes off as a brilliant programmer and a beguiling figure. However, Spence also describes him as a celebrity-seeker and a user of people, and says that he's not an honest man. Arledge withholds power by pitting announcers and executives against one another and continues Spence, "for as long as I have known him...[he] has listened only to the sound of his own voice."
Although Spence doesn't criticize the current management of ABC Sports, with whom he does business as an independent producer, he does zing such ABC announcers as Al Michaels, Al Trautwig and Donna de Varona. For example, Michaels is portrayed as a mefirster who is preoccupied with his reviews and as a star who will never achieve superstar status unless he displays "more warmth on the air.... He reminds me of a quote I once read: 'It is not he who has little who is poor; rather, he who always wants more.' "
Unfortunately the barracuda sections of Spence's book have all but eclipsed its more substantive parts. He predicts, for example, that all major sports events, including the World Series and the-Super Bowl, will move to pay-per-view TV within his lifetime. Spence is 51.
Cosell and Arledge have declined to respond to Up Close and Personal, although Olympic TV packager Barry Frank, who also comes in for abuse, said he pays "as much attention to what Spence writes as I do to what my shoeshine man says." Spence could not have known the book would come out just as Cosell's world was collapsing around him. Last month he lost his TV show and newspaper column, both of which were nationally syndicated, and this month his wife underwent major surgery. But that's the risk kiss-and-tell authors take.
The jockeying between Bryant Gumbel and NBC over whether he will host the Olympics as planned is getting childish. Gumbel says an agreement must be reached on his compensation for Seoul before he signs a new Today contract, and NBC says it may not put him on the Games if he doesn't sign a new Today deal. Who's kidding whom? NBC wants Gumbel at the Games and Gumbel wants the assignment, so both sides will compromise.
A blanket of black-eyed Susans for ABC's able coverage of the Preakness. Producer Mike Pearl showcased the fierce rivalry between trainers D. Wayne Lukas (Winning Colors) and Woody Stephens (Forty Niner). It turned out to be the major story of the race (page 32). In an interview with Jack Whitaker afterward, Winning Colors jockey Gary Stevens accused Stephens of worrying more about beating his horse than about winning the race. Announcers Al Michaels and Dave Johnson followed up on the charge, noting that Forty Niner thwarted Winning Colors but in the process allowed Risen Star to sneak through. Kudos, too, for shots of winning trainer Louie Roussel III hugging everyone in sight and of Lukas in defeat.
Brent Musburger was too quick in awarding Game 7 of the NBA Eastern Conference semifinals to the Boston Celtics. He emphatically declared the game over with 17 seconds left and Boston ahead by five points. Co-announcer Tommy Heinsohn kept reminding him that the Hawks still had enough time to come back, and sure enough. Atlanta brought the game right down to the buzzer. Patience, Brent, patience!
What Spence has to say may be titillating, but it's not pretty.