Thursday, July 26, 2007
Bill Flemming 1926-2007
Bill Flemming, the ABC sportscaster most identified with the Wide World of Sports show, died this week at the age of 80. Some of the young people may not remember him. Some others old enough to watch the show may have not watched it. It reminds me, the geezer who did watch it regularly back in the day, of just how much things have changed.
Look at this guy. Does he look like a jock to you? Hell to the NO! What he looks like (besides a realtor) is a reporter, and that's what he was. Wide World of Sports showed Americans a lot of sports they wouldn't have seen otherwise. There were almost always two man teams reporting, the announcer and the analyst. The announcer was supposed to take your place, the person who doesn't know squat about what he's watching, asking the analyst, an expert at the sport, questions about the action. He wasn't trying to be cool, he wasn't trying to be funny. He was a reporter. Of all the sports reporters of the time, the only tall nail that stuck out and almost screamed out to be hammered down was Howard Cosell. But even Cosell thought of himself as a reporter. He was just the guy who saw more of the picture and wanted to get the scoop, and wasn't afraid of being irritating.
Wide World of Sports tended to show simple sports without a lot of hard to understand rules. Not much soccer or rugby or cricket, but races or sports with judges were great. Easy to tell who won, even if you didn't completely understand it. Cliff diving from Acapulco is the perfect example. Also, you got to see Olympic style sports in non-Olympic years, so there was track and field, figure skating, weight lifting, that sort of thing. I think it must have been Wide World of Sports where I first saw top level table tennis. I played ping pong, but what I played didn't look anything like that. It was amazing!
Flemming's passing reminds me of what it was like when there were just three networks, public television (usually called educational television back in the day) and this new thing that might not catch on called UHF. You didn't get instant gratification. You wanted sports? They were for the weekends. Some (read very few) away games of the local baseball team might be aired during the week, but other than that, you waited until Saturday and Sunday. It was the same with cartoons. Cartoons were all Saturday morning, but come noon, it was time to get unglued from the TV set and go enjoy the rest of the day outside. There might be a couple cartoons on Sunday morning, and for addicts like me, you might even sit through Davey and Goliath just waiting for The Bullwinkle Show to come on.
It was the time before everything was focus grouped, and every kind of 24 hour (you name it) channel, and long, long before the internet. I don't want to go all YOU DAMN KIDS GET OFF MY LAWN! on the topic, but we've lost a lot in our society with the way we've decided to use technology. We get what we want, but we don't find out much about things we haven't tried yet. We aren't waiting for the next Bill Flemming, because his job has disappeared.
Rest in peace, Bill. And now we go back to the studio and Jim McKay.