Mark Giangreco doesn’t deserve to go out like this
After interviewing Giangreco on his radio show last year, Dan Patrick called him “one of the great local sportscasters in history.” He’s not alone in that opinion. “I don’t use the word ‘best’ casually, but I believe he is,” Ron Magers said.
This might surprise a certain demographic in the audience, but ESPN’s “SportsCenter” anchors weren’t the first to turn sportscasts into comedy sketches. Local news anchors delighted viewers with their creativity and wit long before Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick took both to new levels in the 1990s.
Chicago has been blessed to have a few. The late Tim Weigel was the first. His weekly staple was “Weigel Wieners,” sports bloopers interspersed with TV clips behind a cleverly written script. Bruce Wolf brought an alter ego to his segment, “Chet Chitchat,” a hilarious combination of the late Chet Coppock and the living Chuck Swirsky.
Arriving in between them was Mark Giangreco. He didn’t grow up in the area like Weigel (Gurnee) and Wolf (Skokie) did. The Buffalo native came to NBC5 in 1982 after working at stations in Dayton, Ohio, and Louisville, Kentucky. But with his smart-aleck tone and sarcastic sense of humor, Giangreco built such a following that ABC7 hired him away in 1994 to replace Weigel, who had been at the station for 17 years. It was earthshaking news in these parts.
The end of his run at ABC7 is just as stunning. He and the station are working out a separation agreement after news anchor Cheryl Burton took offense to an on-air joke at her expense.
During much of his time here, Giangreco was the best sportscaster at the best time in Chicago sports history. Every major team won a title, and he covered them all. He would have kept viewers tuned in for the second half of the newscast regardless because they wanted to know what he was going to do. But the events he reported on elevated him further.
After interviewing Giangreco on his radio show last year, former ESPN anchor Patrick called him “one of the great local sportscasters in history.” That’s quite a statement from one of the greats in the business himself, and he’s not the only one with that opinion.
“I don’t use the word ‘best’ casually, but I believe he is,” former news anchor Ron Magers said from his home in Florida. Magers arrived at NBC5 a year before Giangreco and joined him at ABC7 in 1998.
“I would match him against anyone I’ve seen or know about. He crams more into that brief sports segment than is almost humanly possible. Without question, he is the most prepared local sportscaster I have ever seen or know about.”
Giangreco put more than a day’s worth of work into those roughly 3 ½ minutes. He ate dinner at his desk. He watched every video to make sure it matched his script. He wrote every word of his copy, and he created every graphic and cutline. A personal favorite was the annual Stan Mikita-Irv Kupcinet pairing to indicate the “Stanley Kup” portion of the segment.
He was a relentless reporter. There was a reason he kept popping up in the ESPN documentary “The Last Dance” about the 1990s Bulls. And he had a great relationship with Michael Jordan, who trusted Giangreco and gave him access he denied to others. Though he had an antagonistic relationship with Mike Ditka, he had the former Bears coach’s respect because he didn’t fawn over him.
“He’s a very bright guy, he’s a very intelligent guy,” Magers said, “and he knows how to find a little different way to go after something, a little different way to present it to you, a little throwaway line that engages you. He is the consummate professional at what he does.”
He’s also a wonderful person to have in your corner. Giangreco has his own “coaching tree,” helping spawn the careers of Mark Shapiro, who rose to executive vice president of programming and production at ESPN; Carmen DeFalco and Marc Silverman, who have their own shows at ESPN 1000; and Chuck Garfien, who hosts White Sox coverage on NBC Sports Chicago. And there are many others.
Most important, for better or worse, Giangreco has always been himself. That’s what Magers said helped Giangreco gain popularity. And let’s face it, Chicago isn’t exactly overrun with celebrities. Our celebrities are local anchors and talk-show hosts, play-by-play announcers and analysts. Giangreco’s persona was perfect for that environment.
“The toughest thing to do in that very brief sports segment in the evening is to find a way to let the real you shine through, and he does that,” Magers said. “That’s really the trick of what he does. He lets you see him. You understand him. People get him.”
Sadly, they probably won’t get him on TV anymore. Giangreco’s future at ESPN 1000, where he has made regular appearances on “Waddle and Silvy,” is uncertain. If this is the end of his time in Chicago, it’s unfortunate that it won’t be on his terms. He deserved the farewell that Magers received when he retired in 2016, filled with video tributes and warm wishes.
Instead he’s being shown the door, the same one he walked through on top of a red carpet. That’s show business, but it can be an ugly business.