November 01, 1999 12:00 PM

HBO (Mon., Nov. 1, 8 p.m. ET)

In his 1991 book What’s Wrong with Sports, Howard Cosell modestly called himself “a living legend.” The controversial sports broadcaster died in 1995 at age 77, but the legend survives in this appreciative but balanced profile.

His former ABC colleague Al Michaels says here that Cosell was one of America’s “five most famous people” in the late ’70s and early ’80s. He was certainly one of the most mimicked. Michaels, Frank Gifford and Billy Crystal can’t relate Cosell anecdotes in Telling It Like It Is without attempting to approximate the great man’s portentous, staccato delivery. But the documentary’s tone is largely serious as it probes the many Cosellian contradictions—between his massive ego and his gnawing insecurity; between his slashing, opinionated style and his hypersensitivity to criticism; between his love of TV fame (from Monday Night Football, Wide World of Sports, Olympics coverage and even a flop variety show in 1975-76) and his sense that he was wasting his prodigious brainpower on trivial pursuits. Boo him or-cheer him, this hour will have you marveling that there was ever a sports-caster who seemed so worth arguing about.

Bottom Line: Emerges victorious

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