A behind-the-scenes look at ABC’s Wide World of Sports, the famous sports show.
ABC’s Wide World of Sports ran for 37 years and was, for most of that time, a huge success and ratings hit. Iconic host Jim McKay and an array of reporters and interviewers—Bud Palmer, Frank Gifford and of course Howard Cosell—took advantage of advances in air travel and satellite technology to take sports reporting to places and events broadcast TV had never been. In his friendly, chatty debut memoir, the show’s producer and director Wilson says, “Every kid in America who tuned into Wide World could now picture himself or herself racing through the streets of Monte Carlo, diving off a coastal cliff in Acapulco, or hurtling headfirst down a treacherous ice track in St. Moritz.” Wilson proves himself an excellent, entertaining guide to the show’s growth and acclaim, providing readers with the perfect balance of insider politics, shrewd estimations of his celebrated colleagues—in particular, his characterizations of McKay, “a good friend, the guy next door,” brim with affection—and a store of enthralling anecdotes, many revolving around the amusing personality clash between sportscaster Cosell and boxing legend Muhammad Ali. “You’re being very truculent,” Cosell sarcastically told Ali, to which the champ replied, “Whatever truculent means, if it’s good, I’m that!” Wilson is openly and winningly sentimental about the sports greats who came through the show, including daredevil motorcyclist Evel Knievel and Soviet gymnast Nadia Comenici, “the elfin girl who charmed the entire world with a simple flick of her wrist at the end of her floor exercise in ’76.” Some of his stories are unexpectedly touching, like the black-and-white photo of Helen “Penny” Chenery (aka Mrs. Tweedy), the analytical owner of the racehorse Secretariat; watching the horse thunder past the half-mile pole, she was able only to say, “C’mon, big boy.” With warmth and intelligence, the book captures a vanished era of sports coverage before the advent of cable’s overwhelming specialty networks.
A monumental show brought to life again in a perfectly pitched read for sports fans.