The agony of the defeat of ABC Sports

15427__cosell_l_1“Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport. The thrill of victory, and agony of defeat. The human drama of athletic competition. This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports.”

Those words kicked off one the longest-running sports program in television history, and, in the pre-You Tube era, also provided the only reliable place to see a ski jumper totally wiping out. Wide World of Sports, which ran from 1961-1996, was sort of like 60 Minutes, only interesting, and as a young tomboy growing up in a boring Houston neighborhood, it shaped my global perspective by showing me that somewhere out there in that wide, wide world, Mexicans were diving off cliffs into the ocean, which was simply mesmerizing.

Roone Arledge was the original producer of WWoS ; he’d go on to executive produce all of ABC Sports and become a true visionary in the televisioning arts. He’s the guy who decided sports might look cool in slow motion and drunk fans might have fun screaming at the instant replay. He’s the genius who invented Monday Night Football; hired Howard Cosell (pictured), Keith Jackson, Jim McKay, and Dick Ebersol; saw the marketing potential of college sports; and oversaw the Olympics when broadcasters first started doing cheesy biopics about the athletes’ lives. (Try imagining the Olympics without Bob Costas murmuring, “For a young boy raised in a cabin without electricity deep in the woods of New Hampshire, the Olympics must have seemed like little more than a dream…” over heart-rending footage of Bode Miller’s rustic childhood. You can’t.)

ABC Sports was Roone Arledge’s legacy. ABC Sports changed the world.  And as of Sept. 2, 2006, ABC Sports will be no more.

addCredit(“Howard Cosell: Everett Collection”)

So what’s the deal here?  Why would such a legendary bastion ofbroadcasting meet such an untimely death?  (After all, to my knowledge,there are still sports.)  Well, to steal a line from someone over on, “What video did to the radio star, ESPN and the like did to Wide World of Sports”– and, subsequently, ABC Sports itself.  ABC’s parent company, Disney,has decided there’s no need for a whole separate division when it ownsa whole separate network, and soon all sports programming on theAlphabet Network will fall under the rubric of “ESPN on ABC.” Which, ona number of levels, makes me sad.

I mean, I love ESPN as much as the next guy, and in fact it is apoorly kept secret that I have been trying to get this one particular SportsCenter anchor to go out with me for like a year (to no avail). I think Baseball Tonight, especially when Peter Gammons is involved, is the best program on television, and it doesn’t even bother me that Monday Night Footballis on ESPN this fall, because 1) Tony Kornheiser is involved and 2)relocating Wife Swap to Mondays freed up space on ABC’s schedule for The Nine,a show I’m really looking forward to. No. What bothers me is not ESPN,but rather corporate America. That’s right, you heard me: this notionthat somehow everything has to be branded, has to be shiny and modern,and no one can wear yellow jackets in the broadcast booth.  That ESPNis somehow “hipper” than ABC Sports and that “hipper” means “better.”It doesn’t.

There should still be a place for plain ol’ quality sports coverageon TV, a place where no one sits in the “Budweiser Hot Seat” or gives areality show to Barry Bonds, a place where graphics do not look like Arkanoid screensand Joe Morgan does not get paid for nattering away during baseballgames.  A place where no one ever, ever allows Bryan Adams to record atheme song for anything. And although this is not ESPN’s fault, I neverpass up a chance to say: Also I hate Scooter, the talking baseball onFox.

So even though there will probably be very little inherent change inwhat we get to watch on the telly (except the little graphic in thelower right hand corner), we’ll miss you, ABC Sports. Your demise isofficially the second thing this month to make me feel very, very old,because personally I do not believe cable channels should just goaround eating parts of networks. Networks are networks and they flythrough the air for free because that’s how God intended it to be…right?  Crap. Next thing you know, I’ll be in a rocker with a rifle,screaming at kids to get off my lawn.

Comments (12 total) Add your comment
  • pn


  • Josh

    I’m not much of a sports guy, but I’ve seen the “Wide World of Sports” intro many times, those words made me a bit nostalgic.
    One small gripe though: “Wife Swap” has been on Mondays for a while now; it was the cancellation of “Invasion” that made room for “The Nine” if you compare last year’s schedule to this year’s (though I am also looking forward to “The Nine”).

  • Joe C

    First of all, Whitney, you work for CORPORATE AMERICA(EW)so there’s that point. And although I grew up in the 80’s, the suits for ABC started this inexorable run to ESPN when they launched Monday Night Football, proving that sports could really make money. No tears shed here.

  • Tim

    I remember watching WWOS on the weekends growing up, and I will miss it. I’m not a fan of ESPN; I just watch the ticker at the bottom for scores.

  • bethany

    Another irritating Fox baseball feature? The “WebMD Symptom Checker”.

  • mike

    ESPN has gradually been nibbling away at ABC sports for awhile now. And while I admit to watching several hours a week of ESPN, I feel your pain. This is a channel that devotes over 20 hours to the NFL draft. They shove cameras in the faces of kids on losing teams at the Little League World Series, and has made stars out of the winners of the world series of poker. Now they are trying to do the same with darts(?)
    The trend will continue. Say Katie Couric bombs badly or there is another scandal at CBS news. Their owners at viacom have talked for years about buying CNN.
    The big three networks as we knew them are on the way to becoming just another cable channel.

  • jmg

    What I dislike about ESPN is they cover cheerleading and hotdog eating contests. This is sports??? Where is the baseball? You know there’s a good game playing at any time but they choose to show other stupid shows. Or they’ll televise the Braves when we all know that TBS will be televising it as well; so that’s a waste. I suspect MNF will never be the same. ESPN is too corporate with a bunch of non-geniuses running the show.

  • dma69

    Not only does ESPN cover cheerleading and hot dog eating contests, they even had World Series of Darts. DARTS??? A sport??? Oy.

  • Tim

    It would be worse Witney, once you start admonoshing the squirls, well, then you know you have a problem.

  • Chris

    The problem with ESPN is their monopoly over sports programming, and this will only make it worse. ESPN often shows a lackluster interest in sports it or ABC do not have a stake in (Olympics, NASCAR, etc), but they overpromote the events (and non-events) they do have (NFL Draft, poker, darts, etc). Corporate tie-ins are deciding the emphasis ESPN puts on sports, not the sports themselves. Take the BCS… ESPN talking heads have usually sided with the BCS as long as ABC has had the rights to the games, but once Fox takes over I wouldn’t be surprised if ESPN suddenly starts pining for a playoff system in college football. The demise of ABC Sports will undoubtedly make ESPN even more powerful, which is not necessarily a good thing.

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