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Gumbel Has Kept It Real for a Decade

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Bryant Gumbel started his broadcasting career in sports before going over to the “real” world. Now, with his career winding down, Gumbel’s world is “Real Sports.”

Gumbel, 55, spent 15 years as the host of NBC’s “Today Show,” then five years at CBS, 2 1/2 as the host of “The Early Show.”

He quit that show in April 2002 and is now semiretired. But he has no plans to quit as the host of HBO’s “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel,” which celebrates its 10th anniversary with a special edition Sunday at 8 p.m.

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“I have no intention of walking away from it,” Gumbel said from his winter home in Jupiter, Fla. “It’s the best and most enjoyable show I’ve ever been associated with.”

It’s not surprising that Gumbel is so fond of working on a sports show. He recalls his days as a young sportscaster at KNBC, Channel 4, in the 1970s and says, “Those were some of the best days of my life.”

Ross Porter was Channel’s 4 main sports anchor when Gumbel started there in 1972, and Stu Nahan came over from Channel 7 in 1977 when Porter went to the Dodgers.

By 1975, Gumbel was getting weekend NBC network sports assignments and began commuting across the country before moving to New York permanently in 1981. He went from NBC Sports to the “Today” show in 1982.

Gumbel returned to sports 10 years ago, after he’d been approached by Seth Abraham, then the president of HBO Sports, and Ross Greenburg, now the president of HBO Sports who was then the executive producer.

“Seth and Ross told me what they wanted to do, and I thought it sounded like a great idea,” Gumbel said. “But I didn’t think NBC would let me do it.”

But Gumbel had an ace in the hole. His Beverly Hills agent, Ed Hookstratten, also represented Tom Brokaw, which gave Hookstratten some leverage. And because “Real Sports” initially aired only four times a year, Andy Lack, the president of NBC News, finally said OK.

When Gumbel went to CBS in 1997, it took some more tricky negotiations, but he was able to continue his association with HBO. “Real Sports” went from quarterly to monthly in 1999.

That was a big move. The question was, could “Real Sports” continue coming up with the kind of quality journalistic pieces that had made it what The Times called “flat-out, TV’s best sports program?”

It showed that it could. “Real Sports,” the “60 Minutes” of sports, has won 13 Emmy Awards, eight for sports journalism, in its 10 years.

Sunday night’s special looks back at many of the best stories “Real Sports” has tackled. It’s a fast-paced, entertaining hour. If there is a negative, it is that the producers crammed too much into it.

It might have been better not to cover so much ground.

Joining Gumbel for this show are reporters Bernard Goldberg, who has done the most segments; Frank Deford, the senior member of the staff in age and service; Armen Keteyian, Mary Carillo and James Brown.

An early segment shows that Keteyian is not reluctant to ask tough questions, a “Real Sports” trademark.

Jerry Colangelo, the chairman and CEO of the Phoenix Suns and former chairman and CEO of the Arizona Diamondbacks, is shown getting up and walking off when Keteyian asks how Colangelo personally profited from the building of Bank One Ballpark.

Washington Redskin owner Dan Snyder is taken aback when Keteyian says, “A lot of people say you are a [jerk]. Why is that?”

And Vince McMahon, angered when Keteyian asks him if he feels responsible for the high death rate in professional wrestling, slaps away Keteyian’s notes.

Sometimes people say the darnedest things on “Real Sports.” Juan Antonio Samaranch, former president of the International Olympic Committee, is shown telling Deford, “We are more important than the Catholic religion.”

Bob Knight tells Deford, “I’ve used a thousand different things to motivate players, and two-thirds of them you would not show at a garden party or church social.”

John Thompson tells Deford, “I tell people I can speak two languages. I’m very educated. I speak English and profanity.”

John Madden, in an interview with Carillo, says, “Mike Ditka or Bill Parcells, I can’t remember which, said, ‘One thing about John Madden, his money doesn’t go to his wardrobe.’ ”

Carillo: “Ever try to be more of a matinee idol?”

Madden: “You can’t put frosting on manure.”

The special ends with each reporter asking Gumbel a question. The oddest comes from Deford:

“What are you writing on your notepad when you talk to us on the air?”

Gumbel: “Just notes, sometimes your name.”

Deford: “You don’t know my name?”

Besides outstanding sports journalism on the show, there has been some fun. It has all worked well.

Short Waves

A thought for the Lakers, who for some reason are considering changing television play-by-play announcers: How about Bob Miller? If the NHL closes up shop, he’ll be available. Before coming to the Kings, he did football, basketball and hockey at the University of Wisconsin.

If the Lakers do make a change, they will probably move Joel Meyers from radio to TV and give the radio job to Larry Burnett. Although Meyers says he is happy doing radio, sources say he has been actively politicking for the TV spot. And don’t forget about versatile Bill Macdonald. Rob Dibble, formerly Dan Patrick’s sidekick on ESPN Radio, has been added to the cast of FSN’s “Best Damn Sports Show Period.” He starts Monday.

In Closing

Here’s another example of the Dodgers’ lack of communication: Nahan found out he was no longer a part of the team’s radio broadcast team indirectly through a sponsor. He says no one from the Dodgers ever called him.


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