Scouting report: Fox Sports Live attempts to be ‘fun’ version of ‘SportsCenter’

With Fox Sports 1 launching Saturday, here is a scouting report for one of its signature shows:


Fox Sport Live

When: Every night at 11 p.m. ET, with refreshed editions airing at 12 a.m. ET and 1 a.m. ET.

Cast: Jay Onrait, Dan O’Toole, Charissa Thompson, Gary Payton, Donovan McNabb, Ephraim Salaam, Andy Roddick.

Competition: SportsCenter on ESPN, and the new Keith Olbermann sports talk show on ESPN2.

Concept: Eric Shanks, Fox Sports co-president, explains that it is essentially “two shows in one.”

“You have Jay and Dan at the update desk,” Shanks said. “You have Charissa, Gary, Donovan, Andy, Ephraim and other experts from other sports joining as needed. This show has a lot of different gears and that is why we want to make sure that we can go in a lot of different directions and actually add a bit of spontaneity to sports television. The beauty about sports, and why people watch it, is you never know what’s going to happen.”

Wildcards: Onrait and O’Toole were wildly popular in Canada. Fox Sports 1 hopes they will be wildly popular in the states, much like the must-watch team of Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick in the 90s.

In a Q/A with Steve Lepore of SB Nation, O’Toole said:

“When Fox approached us, we said, “We want to keep doing what we’re doing.” And to Fox’s credit, they said, “We basically want to pick up your show and move it to Los Angeles exactly as it is.” The biggest testament to that is that they wanted our producer to come as well, to sort of keep the structure of the show as similar as possible, just in a slightly more agreeable timeslot for us so we can go for drinks after the show [laughs].”

Big picture: How can Fox Sports 1 be different than SportsCenter, making viewers switch away from the long-time staple?

Scott Ackerson, Fox Sports executive vice-president for studio production: “What is not out there? What can we create that currently isn’t being done? That’s the approach that we took to the show…The foundation will be the amount of highlights that are done by Jay and Dan, but we also noticed that there wasn’t any type of opinion-based discussions in any of the late-night show. They were centered on around the next and rehashing the previous day.”

That’s where the panel comes in. Thompson will moderate with some significant star power in Roddick, Payton and McNabb.

Payton:  “I’m not just a basketball fan, I’m a sports fan.  We’re going to have a great time because we get along together, and we have a lot of insight of everything. We’re going to have fun.”

McNabb: “We believe the viewers and listeners want to hear Andy give his insight about basketball and football.  They want to hear Ephraim and I give our insights about basketball, track, NASCAR, etc. They want to hear something different instead of us just talking about our given sport because that’s easy. They want to hear our insight and see how deep and prepared we are to talk about all these given sports.  Its energy, excitement, little bit of laughter, some seriousness, but most importantly we’re being informative for everyone that’s watching.”

What could possibly go wrong? After hearing the word “fun” used repeatedly in the teleconference introducing the show, perhaps setting an all-time record, Tom Hoffarth of the Los Angeles Daily News wondered if Fox Sports Live would be a reincarnated version of  Best Damn Sports Show Period.

“We’re going to have fun,” Payton said.

“It’s the combination of being entertained, having fun, and not taking ourselves to seriously,” Thompson said.

“We went into this project to find people that we believe could speak intelligently on multiple topics, would be interesting, can be serious when they need to be serious but could have fun when they needed to have fun,” Ackerson said.

Get the idea? It’s going to be fun.

Fun, though, is a tricky proposition in TV. It can turn quickly into lame. And despite what McNabb says, I’m not so sure I want to hear his take on “basketball, NASCAR (really, Donovan?), and track. I want to hear him on football.

Obviously, with two formats and so many people, there’s the distinct possibility the show could feel disjointed. Pace will be at a premium here.

Also, what happens if the Canadian guys’ act doesn’t transfer over to the states? Given their track record up North, I like that Fox was willing to take the risk on a couple of unknowns here. But it is hardly a given that what plays in Toronto will play in LA.

Prognosis: I do give Fox Sports 1 credit for attempting to take on the SportsCenter powerhouse, something NBC SN and CBS Sports Network have declined to do. I’m intrigued by the Canadian guys (sorry, but quick way to identify them). However, I fear the panel concept could be plagued with potential pitfalls.

When it comes to studio shows, Fox nailed it with Fox NFL Sunday. Not so much with its MLB and college football shows.

Fox Sports 1 has a lot riding on Fox Sports Live. It will set the tone for the new network, giving it an early identity for better or worse.

This much is sure. It will be different. Now we’ll see if different works.







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