George Michael, the longtime sports anchor at Washington’s NBC affiliate, died early this morning. I note his passing here because of “The George Michael Sports Machine,” a syndicated show he produced and hosted from 1980 until 2007. The “Sports Machine” was a landmark in the distribution of sports highlights to a national audience. It may sound trivial now, but Michael was a true entrepreneur in an industry that is now dominated by overpaid, underproducing “professionals.”In the infancy of cable television – and before the Internet was commercially available – Michael and his local sports department gathered nationwide sports highlights via satellite and packaged them into a half-hour Sunday night program that was broadcast in over two hundred markets. The format is now ubiquitous, dominated by ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” but Michael created the model. He combined the showmanship of his disc-jockey background with a perfectionist work ethic.
Another entrepreneurial attribute of Michael was his eye towards expanding the audience. The “Sports Machine” famously ran highlights from sports then considered outside the mainstream, including hockey, stock-car racing, professional wrestling – and, of course, the rodeo. Again, this distinguished Michael from many of his successors, both in sports and general news, who rarely venture outside the public’s established comfort zone.
Michael broke down barriers to the exchange of information. He also maintained the highest standards of quality within his vocation. (Indeed, he retired in 2007 to protest budget cuts that gutted his staff and resources.) These are examples we can all follow going forward in our own work. Rest in peace, George, and thanks for letting us being a part of your Sundays.