Hall-of-Fame broadcaster Steve Farhood says that hearing the news that Paramount is ending Showtime’s boxing program after 37 years was “emotional,” but that he is trying to focus on the positives of a nearly quarter-century run with the broadcaster.
“We heard rumors, and the rumors became more serious as time went on, yet the day that we finally met and were told officially, it struck us as almost being ‘new news’ because I guess part of you no matter why holds out hope that it will keep going. So, in that sense, it was rough emotionally,” Farhood told the Showtime Boxing Podcast.
Farhood is particularly disappointed that ShoBox: The New Generation, the low budget franchise featuring prospects and fringe contenders for which he was an analyst, will not get a proper farewell; its final broadcast, from San Antonio, was on September 15th.
“It’s hard because ShoBox has been a big part of my career,” he said. “I think in its own way, it established something that had never been done before. I hope it’s remembered by fans as much as the bigger fights. It’s very, very sad to see ShoBox go.”
Prior to joining ShoBox at its launch in 2001, Farhood, a print journalist by trade and a former editor of The Ring, had merely dabbled in television. It was not, he now concedes, a medium at which he naturally excelled.
"Ten years prior to Shobox starting, I did three two or three shows for Showtime as a third man Interviewer,” he recalled. “This is going back to the Booby Czyz/Steve Albert era. And I stunk. I was nervous. I’m not really made for TV. I'm not a natural performer. I'm a journalist, I'm a writer.”
Even so, when Showtime was preparing to launch ShoBox and word reached him that the position of analyst was very much open, he reached out to producer Richie Gaughan and executive producer Gordon Hall and asked to be considered.
“So, they said, ‘We’ll audition you.’ It was a Kostya Tszyu fight in Connecticut, and [they said] ‘We’ll audition you with Nick Charles. And I was very happy about that, because I had been working with Nick at CNN for a couple years already. So, I was comfortable with Nick.”
At this point, none of the other candidates had impressed.
“And I was told 'We’re at the end of the road, man. Unless you screw up badly, the job is yours.’ Within a week, I had the job and [late Showtime executive] Jay Larkin, who of course hired me, told me, ‘You can have the job, but you have to get new glasses. You look like an owl.’ And that day, I went to the optometrist got a new pair of glasses.”
While ShoBox is famed for being a proving ground for future world champions – more than 80 boxers who would go on to claim the sport’s ultimate prize made some of their earliest US TV appearances on the show – Farhood admits that he didn’t always nail his predictions of which of the young boxers he was watching would ultimately excel.
“I mean, Tim Bradley, he's a Hall of Famer, a champion in more than one division, but the first time he fought on ShoBox, I wouldn't have given 10 cents for his future. He just didn't look good. He won easily. But he didn't look good, not special, although he turned out to be special. Another good example would be the American debut of Tyson Fury. We went to England. And at the time in America, nobody knew who he was. And he fought this guy [Rich Power] and he looked average. And we looked at each other and said, ‘Well, he's not going anywhere.’ Well, I guess you really need to see somebody multiple times to make a judgment.”
In the space of a little more than five years, the boxing world has shifted from one in which every oxer aspired to be on HBO or Showtime to one in which neither broadcaster remains in the sport. It has been a dramatic and rapid change, but one which Farhood is confident reflects more on a shifting media landscape than the popularity of boxing.
“I remember the day HBO went under five years ago, I remember being very sad. And the idiots, the frigging idiots who were happy when that happened, or when Showtime went under there were people applauding: shame on them. Shame on them,” he said. “But you know, not only is nothing forever, but sometimes, it's kind of heartbreaking. It seems there's an obvious shift towards streaming versus television. It's hard for someone my age to realize this, but there are 25- and 30-year-old kids who don't have cable TV and don't give a crap about television. So it only makes sense that that would deeply impact boxing. Maybe it'll take longer to impact other sports. But I think there's been a big change in that. And boxing is never going to go anywhere. Because we know there's nothing better than a great fight. But what it takes to see that fight is changing.”