Despite sale to Disney, ESPN not a Mickey Mouse operation

Media Watch

November 25, 1997|By Milton Kent

ORLANDO, Fla. -- If you've been with ESPN for any length of time, you know that it's not the quaint little all-sports channel it started out to be.

What was once a place to grab the latest highlights, a few out-of-the-way college basketball games and an Australian rules football contest or two is now a global behemoth, with its tentacles spread among radio, television, publishing and, soon, food, with an ESPN Grill restaurant to open in Baltimore next summer.

So, how does a former little guy become a Really Big Guy without losing what made it so good in the first place? That's a good question for John Walsh, ESPN's executive editor, who joined the company from Inside Sports in 1988.

"My dream was the original Inside Sports, which I spilled my blood over. I was spilling the same kind of blood that everybody else was at ESPN during the 1980s, and they worked really hard," Walsh said earlier this month. "The place was made by hard work, and the work ethic has been the dominant factor."

ESPN's growth spurt has come concurrently with -- but not necessarily as a result of -- the 1995 sale of its parent company, ABC, to Disney.

There have been few overt links between the Disney monster and its smaller, but expanding offspring, but that hasn't stopped some outsiders, and a few folks on the inside, from wondering whether the Mouse won't exert its influence over ESPN and attempt to shape what comes out of Bristol, Conn., the channel's headquarters.

Indeed, as a part of the growing "synergy" between the two entities, ESPN does some of its "Baseball Tonight" shows from here during spring training and held a recent town meeting on the subject of sportsmanship at the Disney Wide World of Sports complex.

But Walsh said there has been no attempt from anyone to assert Disney policy on ESPN employees, particularly in the area of news gathering, citing, for instance, a story on an "Outside the Lines" show in which the Anaheim Angels, 25 percent owned and managed by Disney, were cited for their failure to market to Hispanics in Southern California.

"I think we've been watchful and everybody's watchful in the news area to make sure we have the independence to cover things," Walsh said. "But let's face it: We're a pretty successful news association at this point, and there wouldn't be any reason to tinker anyway with the formula or the operation that's there. Other people have this issue. CNN has to cover the [Atlanta] Braves and pretty soon Fox is going to have to cover the Los Angeles Dodgers, so it's not just Disney."

A fine first effort

Though no one will confuse Channel 2's production of the Towson-Michigan basketball game last night with that of a network, the folks over at York Road should be proud of the work they did, turning in a superior effort particularly for a local outlet with little experience at televising a live basketball game.

With a limited amount of equipment, the station attacked a beautiful game with fervor and intelligence, with cameras in most of the right spots, and solid replays. The graphic packages were informative and timely, without being intrusive. And, to its credit, the station didn't bring in some big-name announcer, but went with its in-house guys, Scott Garceau and Keith Mills, who were more than up to the challenge. Garceau, the radio voice of Loyola, was as solid as ever, but Mills, who knows local basketball better than anyone on the air in town, was insightful and prescient, staying on top of trends and providing good analysis.

When the station carries next year's "Battle of Baltimore" tournament, those in charge of the telecast will need to consider a better way of getting the score on screen more frequently, as well as lighting the Towson Center a little better. Also, the director will have to refrain from calling shots from cameramen who are swinging from one shot to another, as happened more than once. Finally, the replays should be better framed so that the action appears in the middle of the shot, not off to the left or right.

All in all, though, last night was a good one for Channel 2.

Pub Date: 11/25/97

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