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Bill Simmons: Why I Still Stand Behind “The White Shadow”

November 2nd, 2011 by Bill Simmons Editor-in-Chief, Grantland.com

We’re nearing our five-month anniversary at Grantland, which also makes it the five-month anniversary of me coming to the depressing realization that I am old. See, I have a bunch of younger people working for me ranging between the ages of 23 and 34. They make fun of me constantly for being one of the last 20 people in America with AOL, for excitedly bringing up movies that they’ve never seen, and for making fun of THEM for their creepy reliance on Gmail chat (the rarely seen, “We’re making fun of you because you’re incorrectly making fun of us” scenario). In my defense, Gmail chat is going to eventually lead to the end of small talk, the end of conversation and a world in which people stand 3 feet away from each other and communicate by Gmail chatting over actually talking. Long-term, I’m going to win this one. You’ll see.

Anyway, my favorite TV show of all-time is “The White Shadow.” It was canceled 30 years ago, seven years before our youngest staffer (Robert “Baby Bear” Mays) was born. Mays came over my house for Halloween to help us handle trick-or-treaters. (I live in one of those neighborhoods that gets slammed by trick-or-treaters.) One of the parents that brought trick-or-treaters to our house was That Guy from Beautiful Girls – you know, That Guy who got married too young in the movie. Not Matt Dillon, not Timothy Hutton, not Michael Rapaport, not the guy with the mustache… the other guy. When I told Mays, “It’s that guy from Beautiful Girls,” he gave me a blank stare followed by the soul-crippling, “Never seen it, it came out when I was like 8.” And that’s when I pulled a big plastic Snickers bag over his head and strangled him to death.

Here’s the point, people under 30: There’s some quality stuff out there that (A) you’ve never seen, (B) is better than 98% the crap on TV right now, and (C) is a better way to spend your time than having 19 different meaningless Gmail chat conversations at the same time. For whatever reason, some of these classics are available online. You know, like “The White Shadow.” Here’s a link to its funniest episode ever: the time Coach Reeves tried to teach Salami, Thorpe and Coolidge how to play golf. Because it’s 1980, they end up learning a valuable lesson along the way. You also get moments like this:

Thorpe (speaking into a fake mike): “We’re standing here at the first tee of the Morris Thorpe Ghetto Open … all proceeds will benefit the Warren Coolidge Foundation for the prevention of rat bites and bullet wounds.”

Coolidge (grabbing the fake mike): “First prize will be a check for $50,000 … or $50 in cash.”

Salami (playing along): “Anyone getting a hole-in-one will receive a new car — year and model to be determined later tonight.”

My favorite moment: when someone asks Coolidge how he hit a drive so far and he answers: “Easy. It’s white.” This was cutting-edge stuff in 1980. You have to believe me. I say this episode totally holds up, and that Mays would have loved it if I hadn’t brutally murdered him last night. Enjoy the 48 minutes you’re about to waste. Now get off of my lawn.

Bill Simmons is the Editor-in-Chief of Grantland.com and the author of the recent New York Times No. 1 best-seller The Book of Basketball.

Last comment: Nov 3rd 2011 10 Comments
  • Ralph Sloane says:

    I seem to be of the same generation as Robert Mays, as I was too young to see Beautiful Girls, but if my Wikipedia/IMDB research is correct, you should have referred to That Guy as The Best Friend from The Truman Show.

  • Netti says:

    We know live in a world where we now only text to the people and talk to the Siri.

  • Chad says:

    Did every show in the 80s use that same A-Team font found on the opening credits of White Shadow?

  • steve says:

    Bill – you are about 10 years late on you Instant Message rant…it has been popular at most offices for a long time…That is all…

  • Nathan says:

    Hey Bill,

    I’m a 23 year old that wants to watch all this stuff, but unfortunately med school rips away any chance I have to explore TV that can’t double as social capital. I need you to compile me a list of things to catch up on whenever free time becomes normal again. Also, a list of classic NBA finals that are must watch would be nice.

  • Mike McCabe says:

    Great selection Simmons. The White Shadow was a great show and very underrated. My dad used to watch it every week. As a teacher and coach, he could totally relate to it. As a teacher and coach myself, I can do the same.


  • Charles says:

    27 Year old here raised on Cheers, was a huge fan of the white shadow on nick at night, glad to see it get mentioned so many years later.

  • Rebecca says:


    I go through the same problem when it comes to my kids. They like watching all these reality tv shows and so forth and I keep telling them they are not shows, they are garbage, granted not everyone feels this way but like you said, at least shows in the 80s most of them, had purpose behind them.
    i remember watching Disney movies every sunday night. After school specials, whatever happened to those?, and shows like, The incredible Hulk, White Shadow, Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew mysteries, Fame, ect. My daughter likes musical type shows like Glee and said she wished they made more of them. I told her to watch Fame and she said she didnt like it as it did old songs… there is another controversy for you, but one that continues on through each generation.

  • Joe says:

    I used to love White Shadow when I was a kid. I used to watch it when it was on ESPN Classic. It made me laugh every time. I’m glad someone else is suggusting and recommending it. I’m not old; I’m a college student and I liked it a lot.

  • Rosey says:

    Agree with you Bill. There is a decent amount of solid TV out there today, but unfortunately, for every good show in this era, there’s about 10 HORRIBLE shows. Part of it is the ever-increasing number of cable stations growing by the day.

    Connected to this though, and most responsible, is the horror that is Reality TV. The programming that is rolled out from station to station is just embarassing: Real Housewives, Super Sweet 16, The Nanny, Extreme Barbie Doll House Makeover, you get the point. It’s just out of control.

    My buddy and I, who both turned 37 this year, still go back to The White Shadow as one of our all-time favorites. I guess we are dating ourselves into a certain era when we can pull out Coolidge and Salami quotes without batting an eye.

    I grew up with Different Strokes, Cheers, The Cosby Show, Three’s Company, Growing Pains, Coach, ER, MacGyver, ALF, Night Court, A-Team, Greatest American Hero, The Wonder Years, Knight Rider, and the list goes on. It was just awesome. I stand by the continuing argument with the younger generation, that as good as some of the shows today are, the sheer volume and quality of programming we grew up with can’t be matched, and probably never will be. Heck, think about it, we lived in an era where there was so much solid tv in the form of dramas and sitcoms that networks actually ran first run shows on Friday AND Saturday nights!

    As for the current stuff, I was (and remain) a huge LOST geek, loved X-Files, think Curb is one of the greatest comedies ever. But for me, it was (in syndication) a rediscovered love for the original Hawaii Five-0 that tops my list. Jack Lord and James MacArthur hunting down the bad boys in Hawaii, with classic guest star after star each week? Can’t top it.

    Now it’s on to enjoy another great episode of TWS.