Technical Difficulties


Pete Croatto

Nearly every weekday morning I find myself watching at least a few minutes of Mike and Mike in the Morning, ESPN 2’s simulcast of the immensely popular national radio show, or four hours of thinly veiled gimmick. Mike Greenberg, the admitted metrosexual, has the smooth, smug delivery of a haughty elementary school principal. Mike Golic, the burly former athlete, is blandly gregarious, the kind of guy the local Lion’s Club would kill to have emcee its year-end banquet.

They offer no insightful opinions, no controversial statements. It’s basically Greenberg and Golic lobbing softball questions to ESPN experts—the show is synergy in action—and safe-for-the-carpool musings. Song parodies and nicknames pass as cutting edge for these two. In all, it’s thrilling entertainment if mom still makes your bed.

Why do I watch? While the coffee brews and the bread toasts, I want to catch the scores and headlines on the omnipresent BottomLine—the scroll that resides at the bottom of all ESPN programming. I’ll get the information I need, but then Greenberg will tease the next story— “You'll never guess what superstar wants to leave pro football for clog dancing”—and I’m hooked. Like dating or summer blockbusters, the payoff is rarely worth the anticipation. I’ll get more of the same flavorless, polite debate that recalls Charlie P. Pierce’s remark about watching Charlie Rose interview Tom Brokaw. Such an arrangement, Esquire’s political blogger feared, “might trigger a critical mass of sonorous banality, causing the world to end in an explosion of oatmeal.”

Greenberg, though, fascinates me. Perpetually rigid, he looks as if he’s expecting the producer to patch him through to the White House at any moment. Greenberg is one in a long line of ESPN anchors who is so smooth that he sucks the joy out of sports. (Even when he’s joking, it comes across as  part of the wacky morning DJ job description, not because he’s in the moment.) You could say the same things about Bob Costas or Bob Ley, but their eloquence is natural. Greenberg’s isn’t. It’s easy to imagine mom and dad  forcing young Mike  to watch tapes of Jim McKay and Marv Albert instead of playing outside with the other kids.

The opportunity to gain some insight behind Greenberg’s TV-ready façade is what possessed me to read Why My Wife Thinks I’m An Idiot, the broadcaster’s 2006 memoir examining his travails as a father, husband, and kind-of celebrity. It’s a depressing affair. Near the end of the book Greenberg talks to his psychiatrist, who had asked him to keep a journal, parts of which appear throughout the years-long narrative.

“It’s all made up,” she said. “There’s hardly a shred of you in here.”

“Well, Doc, you know what I always say: Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.”

“When do you say that?” she asked.

“On the radio.”

“Michael, in case you haven’t figured this out, you’re not on the radio when you’re here. I’m not part of your audience. This is an inappropriate place to be testing material.”

The book resembles that material buffed to a high gleam, the HBO comedy special after months of performing at dive clubs—or psychiatrist offices. Greenberg is so determined to entertain readers, to paint himself as some put upon regular guy that like the fed-up Dr. Gray, we never see the real Mike Greenberg. We get the latest variation of the sitcom husband, who somehow manages to fumble through life while his much smarter wife tolerates him. Stretches of the book resemble bits from the woe-is-me comedic man’s starter kit—from 1985: My wife wins every argument! I can’t change a flat tire! Without my wife and with the kids, women look me at as incompetent and unhip! Supermarkets? Ugh!

What I find so insulting is that over the book’s time span, Greenberg was a young husband, uncertain of his parenting abilities, and struggling to balance work and life. These are all situations that I currently deal with, or will be in the near future. It would have been nice to find an ally, but Greenberg tackles everything with faux familiarity. Every genuine revelation is answered with numerous stories of his social awkwardness or liberal swearing. It’s literary shtick, and it’s even harder to tolerate when we get a glimpse into Greenberg’s life. Raise your hand if you've been on a lavish vacation aside from your honeymoon? Or have screwed up a big-time endorsement deal? And, geez, doesn’t it suck when your live-in nanny isn’t around? Spare us the first-world problems. Tell us about what is required  to talk for four hours, almost non-stop, everyday. Tell us about how two successful professionals juggle schedules and duties when raising two youngsters.

Anything would be better than this vanity project disguised as a testimonial. Then again, this is exactly what ESPN and its loyal viewers want. Watch enough SportsCenter and you’ll see that the company rolls out “personalities” with a cold efficiency. Herm Edwards is your rah-rah guy; Chris Berman is the guy’s-guy; the witty Scott Van Pelt  is the smart aleck. Why My Wife Thinks I'm An Idiot isn’t about a life; it’s part of a very shrewd, multi-layered marketing campaign. Read it, if you want, but be warned: There are no headlines or sports scores in sight. But if you’re looking for pointless blather? Keeping turning those pages, sports fans.

Books mentioned in this column:
Why My Wife Thinks I’m An Idiot: The Life and Times of a Sportscaster Dad by Mike Greenberg (Villard, 2006)

Pete Croatto’s essays, criticism, and humor writing have appeared in MAD, Publishers Weekly, BookPage, AMC, and the (Newark) Star-Ledger. He also reviews movies for ICON and The Weekender, and maintains a movie blog. A longtime Mets fan, Pete currently lives in Bucks County, PA, which is Phillies territory. Pray for him. Contact Pete.



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