Man Who Inspired ‘SportsCenter’, ‘PTI’ Passes On

Longtime D.C. sportscaster George Michael passed away today. From the WASHINGTON POST:

George Michael Sports Machine

(Turning slot machine into a “SportsMachine!” changed sports media)

From 1984 to 2007, he oversaw a trendsetting show that made liberal use of action highlights from games that was eventually called “The George Michael Sports Machine.” At its peak, the show was syndicated to more than 200 stations. The show was credited with inspiring ESPN’s “SportsCenter.” 

ESPN’s SportsCenter actually started in 1979, but I do think it’s reasonable to say that the production Michael put into the Sports Machine show, with the (now amusing) futuristic-looking set, did inspire SportsCenter’s advancement to better production value.

Other thing to remember about SportsCenter in the early days is that it had a very low profile nationally because cable was still in its relative infancy. Michael had considerably more weekly viewers with his network syndicated highlights show on Sunday nights, so for many people the concept of a national sports news show was first introduced to them by Michael. Hard to imagine a world without that now, eh?

Though a less-known connection to ESPN involving Michael probably had a much larger impact on the network we know today. 14 years ago it was Michael who first paired WASHINGTON POST sportswriters Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon together for a television show.

Kornheiser and Wilborn first appeared on Michael’s ‘Redskins Report’ every Sunday in D.C., then went on to co-host a show called ‘Full Court Press.’ That experience helped propel Kornheiser and Wilbon to ESPN’s ‘PTI’, where they currently host the most-watched daily show on the network.

Another Michael connection to ESPN is through SportsCenter’s highest-profile anchor Scott Van Pelt. Van Pelt grew up in D.C. watching Michael and talked to me today about the experience. Read more…