The Washington D.C. area lost one of their broadcasting giants today when sportscaster George Michael passed away from complications due to cancer.
Michael is known nationally for his Sports Machine, which broadcast every Sunday night from 1984 to 2007. It also could be heard in the movie "There's Something About Mary", where the character played by Cameron Diaz could be seen watching it.
His Sports Machine had tremendous influence on ESPN, and the network implemented many of his ideas for use on their own network. The show, as did his nightly newcasts on NBC WRC-TV, would cover all sports. Ranging from pro wrestling, hockey, most auto events, rodeo, and equestrian, Michael made sure his viewers were entertained and educated.
He started his career as a disk jockey, working in places like Philadelphia for years until moving on to New York City. He became very popular there, and even did color commentator work with Tim Ryan on New York Islanders telecasts.
Michael came to Washington D.C. in 1980, when the late Glenn Brenner was the most popular sports anchor in town. Brenner was likeable, and known for his humor. Michael worked hard to get his station, the last place network in town, to get more viewers. By the mid-'80s, he was gaining as many, if not more, viewers than the legendary Brenner.
The Sports Machine was not the only reason he gained such notice. He also hosted shows that would cover local teams in the area on a weekly basis throughout the seasons. The broadcasting careers of John Riggins, Tony Kornheiser, David Dupree, Michael Wilbon, and many more started under Michael's wing. Sonny Jurgensen, the Washington Redskins Hall Of Fame quarterback, was always his main partner on all Redskins related telecasts, and their friendship made the show even better to watch.
George liked to tell it like he saw it, and he never held back. He toughened up Kornheiser and Wilbon, which enabled the pair to parlay that gained wisdom to hosting a popular television show on the ESPN network. Riggins, a local hero, also sharpened himself under the tutelage of Michael.
After winning a Sports Emmy in 1985, he was on his way to legendary status. Brenner passed away from brain cancer, so most of the locals all then tuned into Michael. Sports like NASCAR and hockey got a lot of publicity from him, which greatly helped each sport increase in popularity.
When WRC decided to have budget cuts in early 2007, they wanted cut much of his staff from the payroll. Michael opted to retire as a sports anchor, in hopes he could save people their jobs. He also stepped down from the Sports Machine, which was off the air within weeks of his departure. He kept doing the weekly shows on the Redskins and Wizards until they also were taken off the air because of budget cuts in December, 2008 in spite of their being amongst the networks most popular shows.
Watching George Michael work was like watching a master take his craft to another level few could reach. He was so respected that he could score the interviews that no one else could. He was the only sportscaster allowed to broadcast within the Redskins stadium for years as well.
His death on the day before Christmas is one of mixed emotions, in a way. Knowing death is part of life still does not make his departure any less sad, yet we were all treated to a gift of having him a part of our life that will be remembered and honored each time ESPN goes on the air to try to replicate his brilliance.
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