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Last Monday, Gothamist set down with award winning sportscaster Len Berman. A New York native, Berman attended Stuyvesant High School and started his broadcast career while a student at Syracuse University. He got his start in television news as a reporter (and later news anchor) in 1970 at WLWD-TV (now WDTN-TV)in Dayton, Ohio. Three years later, he moved to Boston’s WBZ-TV, where he served as sports director and called Boston Celtics and New England Patriots games. In 1979 he returned to New York as weekend sports anchor for WCBS-TV.

Len joined to NBC Sports in 1982 where among other duties he anchored NFL football pre-game shows. In 1985, he moved over to WNBC and on February 26, 1986 aired the first monthly Spanning the World segment. A 20th anniversary Spanning the World special will air this Saturday at 7:00 p.m. on WNBC.

Back in the 1980s, every sportscaster seemed to have a wacky highlight reel of some sort. Was Spanning the World just your entry into the fray or could you shed more light on how the idea for Spanning came about?
You know it was two fold. You are absolutely right everyone had one. I replaced Marv Albert at the station; he had what he called the Albert Achievement Awards. Warner Wolf was over on channel 2 at the time doing his plays of the month. George Michael in Washington was doing the plays of the month; we carry his show the Sports Machine.

The idea of a monthly is probably two fold. You come up with all of this material during the course of a month. It is a nice format. Truthfully it is great on a slow day when there is not much going on. Once a month, it is something you can look forward to.
The whole premise was I didn’t want it to be the plays of the month. We called it Spanning the World as a subtlety. It was like out little inside joke. ABC’s Wide World of Sports opens up with the announcement, “Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport…” We jokingly said they span the globe; we’re going to span somewhere else. It was our little joke, not very funny I might add, but our little inside joke.

I just thought we would not necessarily do plays, but try to come up with other off beat angles. So, consequently other people who do plays of the month never had the horse that got Bar Mitzvahed. We had the race horse that got Bar Mitzvahed and aren’t we proud of it. It is just a different approach

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How do you find all the odd video?
The video just comes from any and every source. It is a lot easier now. When we first started then, there weren’t as many video sources. Believe it or not, there was a great clip that we got a couple of months ago because I just Googled the word blooper and it lead me to something in Minnesota. It was a weird thing, it was just an accident. So there is no real set way. We look at a lot of feeds; we look at Reuters overseas feeds. We look at our own Newschannel feeds, other stations.

I got a call last month from a mother in Wisconsin. She said her daughter hit two crazy shots back to back. We looked it up, found the tape and we used it. The mom called it in and sometimes people send things in we don’t use.

Spanning been featured nationally on the Today show how long has that been going on for?
I started it locally here in February of ’87. In August of ’89 the Today show picked it up. So I do it once a month there.

Rodney McCray went through the outfield fence in Portland in 1991 and we have been seeing him every month in the opening montage for Spanning ever since. I am sure that is one of your favorite highlights, do you have any others?
Well yeah. We are going to end the half hour special with my favorite top ten. You have probably seen a lot of them. We have the boxer who knocks out another boxer and his toupee comes off. There is the classic one in Birmingham, England where a kid is loosing his boxing match and his mom runs in the ring and beats the opponent over the head with a high heeled shoe. He lady upstate that had her race horse Bar Mitzvahed.

In Wyoming there was a high school game where the last play was where they told a kid to get down on all fours and bark like a dog. So he goes down and goes “wolf, wolf, wolf” and while he is doing that they pass the ball over and win the game.

I am sure you saw the one in a bullfight where the fan runs out and he is wearing red and the bull tosses him up in the air and rips his pants off. They cut to the shot of the bull and he has underpants on his horn.

We included the lady who sings the national anthem a couple of summers ago at an exhibition hockey game where she forgot the words. Caroline Marcel was her name in Ottawa. She went and got the words and she went and got the words and came back on the ice and fell on her ass.

Do you have one New York sports moment that really stands out?
It is hard to pick one New York moment. It is funny. Some viewer, a kid just asked me that question last week. I picked two. The Giants winning the first Super Bowl they won which was in Pasadena. They beat Denver and the Giants in the Super Bowl was a big deal. You are probably used to the Giants being a pretty good football team, but they went through a long drought between the ’60s and the ’80s.

And then the Yankees getting the World Series win again in 1996. I have had a great run doing the sports here. The Islanders have won four cups, the Rangers won a cup, the Knicks were in two finals, the Nets were in two finals, the Yankees won a bunch of World Series; the Mets even won a World Series while I was here. It’s great. The Jets, I don’t know what’s going on with the Jets.

You have interviewed many New York sports figures over the years, some legendary others not so much. Is there any one or two interviews that stand out?
Well, I don’t know. It is just that the guys who always had the sparks flying were the most interesting, like Reggie Jackson and Lawrence Taylor. There was always something going on – there was always some mayhem, some lightning rod about them.
I don’t thing there was one particular interview, but just in general when ever you were going to go after Reggie, because he was always fighting with Billy Martin, George Steinbrenner, or Thurman Munson you just knew something was going to happen. There was some kind of energy there, and Lawrence Taylor and the way he got along with the Giants.

As the years go by the athletes get more guarded. Derek Jeter is a very guarded interview. Alex Rodriguez is very choreographed and people aren’t as interesting as interviews as much as they used to be.

You have been both a play by play announcer and a sports reporter. Do you prefer one to the other or does having done both give you an insight on doing both?
I think both are fun. Play by play is kind of fun because you just do it and the game is over. The thing about newscasting is that there is always another broadcast in a couple of hours. So you are always on. You always have to stay on top of things.

Play by play is more concentrated. If it is football, you study for a week and the game is over. That’s it. I always like doing a little bit of everything, but I think the fun about doing newscasts is that you have things to talk about everyday. I’ll use today for example. While you were sitting here Isaiah Thomas was just given a new contract and the Islanders are reacting to the big suspension, and the newest football Giant came to town, and the Yankees are playing the Red Sox tonight for the first time. A lot going on. When you do games per se, sometimes it is not as news intensive. I kind of like the action.

You worked in the heart of Red Sox Nation, also known as Boston. Was it hard for you as a New Yorker to work in “enemy territory” and how do you think the fans there compare to those here?
It is a little different. I call Boston a small town. You have six states that focus on the Red Sox. Six states. Here in New York, you have so many different things. Everybody in Boston is a Red Sox fan. Everybody is a Red Sox fan. In New York, not everybody is a baseball fan. You have your Yankee fans; you have your Met fans. It is split, but there are so many other things here. You have the fashion capital of the world, you have opera, you have Broadway, you have television studio production. It is a lot different. So it is not as intense even though New York drew seven million baseball fans last year, a world record for two teams, it is not as intense.

As far as the objectivity, that was easy because my first job was in Dayton, Ohio. I was covering the Cincinnati Reds, and I think you learn real early about objectivity, and actually I developed a kind of anti-New York bias. I grew in New York, I moved to Dayton, Ohio and I’ll never forget, I love telling this story. There was this story on the wires about a football player on the Giants; his name was Brad Van Pelt. He was trying to decide between baseball and football. I am living in Ohio. They sent it out as a bulletin. The wires are very different, now it is on computer, but at the time the bells would ring. The wire service sent it out as a bulletin that Brad Van Pelt decided that he was going to play football instead of baseball. In Ohio I am saying who cares. That same day Pete Rose signed a contract ending a hold out. He was the National League batting champion for Cincinnati and there was no bulletin. I am saying to myself, “Wait a second.” The New York media is concentrated. You have the wire services headquartered in New York, Time magazine, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, the three major networks, now it is five major networks, are headquartered in New York. It is a long way of saying you learns objectivity real fast.

The sports report on the news seems a lot different now than it did ten years ago. Back then you ran through every score of the major sports. How have things changed and has the influence of ESPN and the internet changed what you cover every day?
Everything’s changed. I’ll go back even further. When I was doing Spanning the World twenty years ago, if the Yankees played at 11 o’clock at night, I would show highlights of the game the next night at 6, on the theory a lot of people had not seen them. Now, people have seen the highlights before I do the 11 o’clock news. That’s how things have speeded up. So it totally changes things.

In last night’s NCAA bid when my alma mater got snubbed, that is yesterday’s news. Today at 6 o’clock it is a whole different news cycle. The internet has changed things a lot, ESPN has changed that, all the sports channels have changed that. The highlights are instantly available. They don’t have to tune to me to find out if they won or lost.
When I would come on the next night at six and say “Billy Martin, what was he thinking as Yankee manager, he didn’t bunt in the eighth inning of a close game,” now Vinnie from Queens already said that seven times on WFAN. The whole news cycle has speeded up and your whole approach changes with it.

In 2005 you co-anchored Live at Five with Sue Simmons for a short time and did a great job of it.
Thank you.

Was there really the possibility of you moving to the news anchor seat then?
I don’t know. I have my own doubts about that and they didn’t ask me to, so that is a moot point. I didn’t know after having done sports for so long people would say that is a credible news guy.

I would have wanted to do a different kind of program. See, my interest of doing news and sports is to tell interesting stories. There are a lot of stories, I am not saying anything I haven’t said to the news director, that are covered on the news I don’t find particularly interesting. If you have four crime stories, then the fifth crime story to me looses a lot of impact. I am not saying don’t do crime stories, I am saying maybe do that one important crime story and expand it, which they have to a certain extent with the hundred-and-one year old woman who got mugged. That is the better way to do a crime story as opposed to saying this mugging happened, that murder happened, that accident happened. So I would have had a different approach for me, because I enjoy telling stories news or sports. But, I don’t think they were going to change the whole format of the newscast because that was my idea. I enjoyed doing it and I find news interesting and I follow the news very closely. But I am not sure of the viewer. I actually asked the boss of the station, would people accept me as a newscaster and I don’t know if we ever answered that question.

What is it like to work with Chuck Scarborough and Sue Simmons?
Well, it is amazing, because you wonder where the years have gone. They have both been here longer than I have. I have been with them twenty years and they have been here much longer than that.

The nice thing about this situation, and I mean this with all honesty because I have worked in other kinds of situations as well where we all didn’t get along so well. I am sure that is nothing anyone wants to hear and it doesn’t make any news, but I have worked in news situations where I didn’t like the lead anchorman and we didn’t talk off the air.

It is very comfortable here we have a nice relationship. We have worked so long, we know what the other person is thinking, everyone tries to make each other look better. It is a team. I worked in Boston once with an anchorman who always tried to get the final word on me. Chuck isn’t like that. We all try to help each other and make each other look good. It is a long way of saying it is a great situation.