The Media Learning Curve: USeFuL to some, not most


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The USFL … sigh … pause for effect. And run your fingers through Donald Trump’s orange hair before you’re tempted to pull it out, plug by plug.

It was what ABC and ESPN thought it provide as an alternative to the NFL during the down spring season in the mid ’80s. Except, as Roone Arledge said at the time, the NFL was headed for a strike and the networks were having problems filling inventory for their pro football fall lineup already.


Mike Tollin documents it in less than an hour, in Tuesday’s “Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL?” which we document a bit in today’s media column (linked here).

A little more Q-and-A with Tollin on the subject, including that letter above which is referenced in the column but has yet to make itself into a frame above Tollin’s desk:

Q: Why again did Trump balk about being included in the documentary then have a change of heart, assume he has a heart?

A: “We did 33 interviews. No one said no except him. Everyone was excited because it was fun to talk about. I wrote an email to his assistant asking him to participate, and she wrote back saying ‘he doesn’t look back (on the USFL) as one of his successes and he chooses not to be involved. This was back in 2008. In January, a Sports Business Journal story came out, explaing this ’30 in 30’ project, and said the USFL documentary was part of it, and that many hold Trump responsible for demise of the league. The next day, we got an email from Trump’s people asking how far we were into the production and he’d be willing to reconsider being interviewed.
“I figured he thought that this was the best way to put his spon on it. We did the interview in February. We walked in, he asked all the things you see in the documentary: This is my good side, put the camera there. We’d hope to get him for 45 minutes to an hour. His assistant said it would be lucky if we got 20 minutes. Ultimately, it was about a half hour.
“(After the interview), he walked out of the room and used the line about the USFL being ‘small potatoes.’ Then we turned the camera off. I said right away, ‘That’s the title of the film.’ We wrapped things up, and about 10 minutes later, his assistant said that Mr. Trump wanted to see me in his office. I went in there without the camera, and he’s all cheery and engaging and starts doing the spin I expected him to do in front of the cameras. But it was too late. As I said in the documentary, we don’t see how things ended the same way, but I’m an objective filmmaker, I don’t come in with any position, I’ve just done a lot of reasearch and let it speak for itself. I’ll be as fair and objective as I can, and I hope you’ll join me at the premiere. And he said: That’ll be up to you.”


When Tollin saw what Trump had said in the New York Post about the documentary being “third rate” and questioned Tollin’s motives, Tollin initially responded through an ESPN spokesman: “The film is a celebration of a league that was much beloved. We did 30+ interviews and everyone had fond memories of the USFL, except for Donald. Why is that? Because he never wanted to be there to begin with, because in his eyes it was ‘small potatoes.’
“As he admitted to me, he wanted to buy an NFL team, but they didn’t want him in their league. So he brought his personal agenda to the USFL, which was to try to force a merger with the NFL after only three years. This strategy led directly to the demise of the USFL, as two dozen people such as Burt Reynolds, Steve Young, Doug Flutie, Jim Kelly, and Keith Jackson happily attest.”

Q: How did the letter above get circulated?
A: “Somehow it got out. But I do admire the craft involved in it. He was able to write what he did without obscuring the letter. He’s had a lot of practice. And then after writing it, he says, ‘Best wishes.’ And then I loved the, ‘P.S. You’re a loser.’ If you’re going to insult someone, isn’t that the lead comment?”

Q: Do you expect more reaction from Trump after the show airs Tuesday?
A: “There have been some nice reviews already online. One said that if Michael Moore was a USFL fan, this what he would have done. I’m not sure if Michael is about as far away as possible from my style. The spirit of the piece got me in front of the camera and encouraged that kind of slant.”

As you may be able to tell, our passion for the USFL is about as strong as Tollin’s, having covered the league all three years from the Los Angeles Express perspective.

But we’ll attempt to move forward with more media notes:


== Fox’s Tim McCarver, a former MLB catcher who played in four decades (1959 to 1980), says it’s “no surprise” that three of the final four teams left in the playoffs are managed by former catchers.

“(The Dodgers’) Joe Torre has a National League MVP title under his belt. (The Angels’) Mike Scioscia had a reputation for blocking the plate and being a winning catcher as did (the Yankees’) Joe Girardi,” said McCarver, doing the ALCS with Joe Buck that starts tonight in New York and funnels into Fox’s coverage of the World Series starting Oct. 28. “It’s more of a natural transition, catcher to manager because his job is all-inclusive. It’s also easier to think about the big picture because offensive statistics aren’t as important for a catcher. They only care about how many winners they caught.”

Former Dodger Eric Karros, working the Fox pregame with Mark Grace and Chris Rose, maps out the Angels’ path to the World Series against who many pick as the favored Yankees: “In order for the Angels to take the ALCS, John Lackey and Jered Weaver are going to have to throw like they did against the Red Sox but more importantly, Chone Figgins has to get going. It’s more important for Figgins to get going than for Bobby Abreu. The Angels can’t let the Yankees overwhelm them offensively.”

== This year’s ALCS and World Series games will start slightly earlier than recent years — 4:30 p.m. PDT/7:30 p.m. EDT. The last time a regularly-scheduled World Series game played between Monday and Friday started before 8 p.m. EDT was Game 5 of the 1971 World Series.

== ESPN airs a psuedo documentary on IRL driver Danica Patrick in a 30-minute program airing Sunday (12:30 p.m., ESPN), sponsored by one of her racing team’s main sponsors that makes it appear she’s always at her peak performance.

== Fourth year in a row that ESPN and its other networks goes around the country to capture “Midnight Madness” — the opening of college basketball practices. ESPNU is live today from 6 to 11 p.m.; ESPN2 will simulcast it from 8:30 to 9 p.m. The nine schools featured: North Carolina, Michigan State, UConn, North Dakota State, Kansas, Kentucky, Duke (of course), Washington and Georgetown. ESPN guys spread around to the sites include Doug Gottlieb, Jay Williams, Bill Raftery, Fran Fraschilla and Jimmy Dykes. Steve Physioc and Steve Lavin will be at the University of Washington’s arena.



== How will sports TV viewers appear to benefit from a pending merger between Comcast and General Electric, which for the time being runs NBC and, among other things, Golf Channel, Versus and the new Universal Sports? Experts project this would create the first real rival to ABC/ESPN, and could devalue the sports departments of Fox and CBS in the process.
Maybe that has some value of competition, anything with Comcast in the mix only seems to add problems as far as catering to viewership is concerned. A ridiculous stalemate continues between Versus and DirecTV, so viewers of the satellite TV service haven’t been able to see things on that channel such as Saturday college football or NHL games for more than six week. On the other hand, what are we really missing with what everyone else provides.
As a cable networks that likes to cast its net over the competition — maybe that’s why it’s Comcast — we really aren’t comfortable where this is heading.

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