Founded in 1979 by a group of Amish inventors, ESPN originally stood for Everyone Should Probably Not (Watch). Unfortunately for the investors' cause, people began watching the channel in the early '80s, forcing the original owners to cash out in exchange for a new barn outside of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Subsequent efforts to rebrand ESPN included attempts to turn the network into a Spanish-language cable channel aimed at expatriate Spaniards, a 24-hour psychic channel, and a repository for Barnaby Jones and Ironsides reruns. Finally, in 1982, desperate network executives turned to the last resort for people fresh out of ideas -- sports broadcasting. Buoyed by a steady diet of pee wee golf, darts, ballroom dancing, lawn darts (or "jarts"), and mechanical bull-riding competitions, ESPN built its reputation as the worldwide leader in garbage sports broadcasting. After a brief attempt to turn the network into an all-Basque cable channel (highlighted by the popular talk show Basquing in the Glow with Bob Ley), ESPN solidified its sports focus, adding telecasts of Major League Baseball, NFL, NBA, and bocce ball games.
ESPN's most popular show is World's Strongest Man. However, its second-most popular show is SportsCenter, a daily compilation of sports highlights, interviews, trivia questions, and improv sketches. Its original hosts were Bob Ley and J. Fred Muggs. Muggs was fired from the show in 1980 after questioning the media's soft coverage of Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Doug Williams. He was seamlessly replaced on the show by Chris Berman.
Since 1980, the roster of SportsCenter anchors has expanded dramatically to include 542 stand-up comedians, prop comics, wacky weathermen, and musical satirists. Each has his or her own catchphrase and an unerring ability to make you want to punch them in the face during the Clippers-Bucks highlights.
In addition to sports, ESPN broadcasts several hours a day of sports-themed entertainment programming. These shows have included:
- Cold Pizza, a morning talk show
- Playmakers, a football drama
- Los Amores de Beisbol, a telenovela about a baseball team's players and the women who love them
- I Watch a Lot of Sports, a situation comedy about an unemployed lout who watches ESPN
- Pardon the Interruption, a racially-charged drama from the creator of Crash about two sportswriters, one white and one black
- Around the Horn, a show designed to make people despise newspapers and the people who write for them
- Ill-Informed Idiots Shout at Each Other About Sports, an Around the Horn spinoff in which panelists with as little sports knowledge as possible debate the issues of the day via baseless suppositions and ad hominem attacks.
All seven of these programs are hosted by Stuart Scott, ESPN's official mascot.
ESPN has recently begun producing other programming, including dramas, movies, mini-series, documentaries, and other shows only vaguely related to sports. Despite the unoriginality of most of these shows, ESPN duly promotes them (a lot, especially during Yankees-Red Sox games) using the umbrella name ESPN Original Entertainment.
Many of the above programs are the brainchild of Mark Shapiro, head of programming for the network from 2003 to 2005. Shapiro rose to this prominent position at the all-sports cable network despite his all-consuming hatred for sports and the people who watch them. "I hate sports with the fire of a thousand burning suns," Shapiro told Broadcast Week magazine in a late-2003 interview. "And by the time I'm done here, ESPN viewers will feel the same way I do."
Shapiro delivered on that bold boast by creating programs specifically designed to make sports fans run screaming from the room. "So long as they leave their TVs on in the haste to get as far away from my programs as possible, it still counts in the ratings," Shapiro chuckled. Another major step in Shapiro's plan to make sporting events unwatchable to make sure that network mascot Stuart Scott appeared on the screen for 20 of ESPN's 24-hour broadcasting day.
For that reason, Shapiro -- who is not without his critics outside of ESPN -- is held in high regard by the network's on-air personalities. "Yo, the Lord says you got to rise up for my diggity dawg, Marky Mark," Scott told reporters at an ESPN press event in 2005. "The man's got mad hops, making him as cool as biscuits in an Eskimo's belly, y'all. Boo-yeah!"
We have no idea what the fuck that means either.
- ESPN2 ("The Deuce") -- airs "extreme" sports, such as underwater hockey, jumpin' into a trash can, and poker.
- ESPN3 ("The Trice") -- airs "outdoorsy" sports, such as bass fishing, gettin' lost in the goddamn woods, and poker.
- ESPNews ("The Ticker") -- airs highlights and results 24 hours a day with anchors who have yet to come up with catchphrases. And highlights and results of poker.
- ESPN Deportes ("En Espanol") -- airs beisbol, futbol, bailar de hierro, and poker.
- ESPN Classic ("Real Old Crap") -- airs twenty-three-year-old USFL games on Thursday afternoons. (Really.) And highlights of old poker games.
- ESPN Future ("No Nickname Yet") -- airs tomorrow's scores today, so you can win lots and lots of bar bets. And poker.
- ESPN4, 5, 6 and 7 ("Oh, Shut Up!") -- currently off the air, ever since the satellite beaming them accidentally crashed into Keith Olbermann's ego.
- ESPN8 ("The Ocho") -- aired dodgeball 24 hours a day until 2006, when it was replaced by poker.