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Shapiro Trades Dream for Challenge

Not long after graduating from the University of Iowa, Mark Shapiro, a Chicago native, was on the fast track.

In 1993, when he was 22, he landed a job as a production assistant on an ESPN2 show, “Talk2,” that was taped in Hollywood. Jim Rome was the host.

“I’d been on the job about a week when Mark came in my dressing room and introduced himself,” Rome recalled Thursday. “He said, ‘If you do a four-hour radio show and a one-hour TV show, when do you find time to do your prep work? Would you mind if I helped you prep for tomorrow’s show?’

“I said, ‘Knock yourself out.’ The guest the next day was Warren Moon, and Mark came back with the perfectly crafted, eight-page research paper on Moon. I was blown away.

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“He said, ‘Did it help?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Do you want me to do it again?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He was off and running. About a week later I called my agent and told him this kid would be running ESPN someday.”

Rome had foresight. Less than 10 years later, Shapiro was the No. 2 man at the sports cable giant. As the executive vice president of programming and production, the only person ranking above him was network President George Bodenheimer.

Shapiro had what appeared to be a dream job. He was directly involved in billion-dollar rights deals, he was creating shows and he was hiring respected and accomplished announcers such as Al Michaels.

Then, about a week ago, published reports surfaced that Shapiro might be leaving ESPN. One report was that he had an offer to head up NBC News. Another report had him going to work for Daniel Snyder, the owner of the Washington Redskins.

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It turned out both reports were true. And Wednesday came the news that Shapiro would be leaving ESPN on Oct. 1 to head up an investment firm, Red Zone, owned by Snyder. Red Zone is in the middle of an attempt to take control of Six Flags, which owns or operates 30 theme parks.

When reached in his office at ESPN in Bristol, Conn., on Thursday, the first question Shapiro was asked was, “Have you lost your mind?”

On the surface, it appeared Shapiro was giving up a dream job to go run theme parks. Perhaps Six Flags is going to start a sports cable network?

Shapiro laughed.

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“No, nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “Yes, I have a great job. I love my job. I love my boss. I love my employees, I love the ESPN brand.

“I’m leaving for a bigger and better opportunity. We are trying to take over a theme-park company that is seriously underperforming.

“At ESPN, I was in the entertainment business. My aim was to raise ratings and strengthen the brand. At Six Flags, I’ll be trying to improve attendance and strengthen the brand.”

Shapiro said the possibilities are endless. Six Flags could branch out into other businesses. There was a time Disney was a theme-park business, and look at it now.

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Regarding Snyder’s reputation of being difficult to work for, Shapiro said he doesn’t see that.

“I know him well -- he is a member of the NFL’s broadcast committee,” Shapiro said. “We have a good relationship. What I know is that Dan is a big thinker who has a vision.”

There has been speculation that Shapiro accepted Snyder’s offer because of the prospect of being extraordinarily wealthy.

“I would never accept a job or embrace a job where all that is at stake is money,” Shapiro said. “Those jobs aren’t for me. I have to be passionate about the job.”

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And theme parks apparently excite him.

“I have two sons, Jack, who is 4 1/2 , and Jeffrey, who is 1 1/2 ,” Shapiro said. “Jack has already been to a Disney park six times.”

It was pointed out that maybe he’ll be able to get free passes to Six Flags parks.

“Good point,” he said, although he’ll probably have the money to pay his own way.

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Said Rome: “I’ll tell you what. I’d buy stock in Mark Shapiro.”

Miller Time

TNT, as expected, announced it has hired Reggie Miller to work on its NBA telecasts. He’ll be used as a game analyst and studio commentator.

Miller, who retired after 18 seasons with the Indiana Pacers, said he also talked with Shapiro and other ESPN-ABC executives about employment there, but ultimately chose TNT, which also employs his sister Cheryl.

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“Having a chance to work with Cheryl, I just felt that Turner would be a better fit,” Miller said. “Joining my sister -- a Hall of Famer -- I can’t go wrong. ... It was a no-brainer.”

Short Waves

Saturday’s Dodger game at Florida will not be televised because the 3 p.m. PDT start falls within Fox’s exclusive window. ... Channel 9 has made a deal to carry three San Diego Charger exhibition games, beginning with Sunday’s meeting with the St. Louis Rams. The Chargers announced Thursday that the game is a sellout, so it will be televised live at 1 p.m. on Channel 9 and San Diego’s Channel 8. ... USC football Coach Pete Carroll will be the subject of ESPN’s “Sunday Conversation” this weekend. The interview will be shown on Sunday’s 7:30 a.m. edition of “SportsCenter” and then repeated through the day and again Monday morning. ... Former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes is featured on FSN’s “Beyond the Glory” Sunday at 6 p.m.

In Closing

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One thing Outdoor Life, the new hockey network, needs to do to establish credibility with fans is hire top-quality announcers. Surely the Kings could spare Bob Miller for a night or two a week. There is no better hockey announcer in the country.


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