Rome is well into his second month hosting his new show Rome on CBS Sports Network. Thus far, the latest version of Rome has evolved into a fast-moving show that continues to attract big-time guests: David Stern, Aaron Rogers, Matt Kemp, Justin Verlander, Charles Barkley among others.
“It’s early on, but I am as proud of this show as any show I’ve ever done,” said Rome in his distinctive tone during a phone interview with me.
Yet having said that, Rome is well aware of the reality of his new situation. CBS Sports Network doesn’t have any ratings data for Rome’s new show, but you don’t have to be a Nielsen expert to know it is a fraction of what it was at his former home on ESPN.
I tell Rome my boys, ages 16 and 14, used to watch his show all the time. They came home from school, turned on ESPN and took in the late afternoon block of programming. So much for homework.
They haven’t altered their routine to accommodate Rome’s switch. Television viewing is habitual, I tell Rome, and at 5 p.m. (Central), they are watching SportsCenter instead of flipping to CBS Sports Network for Rome’s show.
“I get it,” Rome said. “I need a buy-in from those kids.”
Then Rome said, “If you want, I’ll tell them myself.”
Unfortunately, the boys weren’t home on this day, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they eventually get a call from Rome. He is so passionate about his new endeavor, he would go door-to-door to attract viewers.
Rome actually is counting on the conventional methods (word-of-mouth and promotion) to build an audience. He knows it will take time and that he may be playing to a mostly empty room for a while.
Rome, though, remains confident he made the right decision, and he continues to stress there is more involved to this move than just the CBS Sports Network show.
Here’s my Q/A with Rome.
What’s your assessment of the show thus far?
I was ready for a new challenge, ready for a new show. We’re hitting it hard. It’s early on, but I am as proud of this show as any show I’ve ever done.
We’re putting so much more into it. I always liked the last show that I did, but it became kind of static. Four burns off the top of the show. Then you’d get an interview. Then you’d get a panelist. Then you’d get one burn at the back end of the show.
This is much more labor intensive. We’re trying to get 7-8 burns at the top. Then we’ll do an interview. If there’s not a good interview, then we’ll double up on the panel. A lot more content. It feels like it moves faster. It feels like the 2.0 version of what I was doing.
Could you have done the same thing for ESPN? Could you have said I want to change the format of the show?
It’s a real interesting question. We just thought we were doing as much as we could do. Everyone was happy with the show. It never came up. At one point they came to me and said, instead of having two people on your panel,. go ahead and have one person. We always thought we were giving as much as we possibly could. It wasn’t until I left where we all said, ‘Look, you can’t do the same show you’ve always done. You’ve got to do more and be better.’
I felt like I had done same show for so long. At this point in my career, I said I could keep doing the same thing. I thought there is risk inherent in not trying to stretch and try something new. On top of that, let’s be honest. If it was just a straight swap, simply moving show to CBS Sports Network, maybe that’s something I wouldn’t have done. They’ve offered me so many other things. They put me on Letterman. I was on the set of the Final Four; I was on the pregame show for the AFC Championship game, and there are more opportunities, including a show on Showtime. When CBS calls and offers you that, you don’t say no.
Do you consider yourself a person who likes to take risks?
Am I a risk guy? Doing nothing would have been a greater risk. But I’m pretty calculating. Sometimes, you have to push yourself.
I’m trying to get in and hopefully make a difference. It’s a big swing. Guys like us who have done this a long time, you’ve got to take a shot.
You mention a Showtime program. What will that be?
It’s going to come out in the Fall. I’m not trying to hide anything, but there’s really not anything new at this point.
What was it like to see all the billboards and ads promoting the new show?
They had this unbelievable roll out when they made the announcement. In my entire career, I never had that kind of promotion in radio or TV. That in of itself was an incredible thing for my career, for my brand.
When I got to New York to do Letterman, I saw a billboard of myself. Somebody took a picture of me standing next to it. I emailed it to my wife. She literally cried. She couldn’t believe it. It was an amazing feeling, and a surreal feeling. It made me want to do well for these folks because they put it out there for me.
You’ve had great guests thus far.
Maybe, it’s the relationships I have with these guys that they want to come on with Rome, whatever that show might be. They’ll get a fair interview and hopefully a smart interview. But it feels good.
How do you reach the viewers who turn on ESPN and leave it on?
You’re exactly right. It’s the De facto channel. You don’t have to find anything. You just turn your TV on. My feeling is, I only can do what I can do. I’m constantly trying to say this is where we are, this is what we’re doing. I try and use Twitter and my radio show to get the word out.
Look, they’ve got a 40-year head start on us and everyone else. ESPN is ESPN. It’s a monster. I understand it isn’t going to change overnight. I’m determined to keep grinding it out every day and do everything I can to get your kids to tune into that network.
There aren’t any ratings for your show. How do you know if people are watching?
I hear from the radio listeners. I get the feedback through Twitter and the radio show. That’s how I know people are seeing the show. We have to tell people where to find it. That’s the challenge. Exactly where are you and when are you on? That’s the challenge thus far.
Do people still say to you, ‘You’re crazy, why did you leave ESPN?
Yeah, little bit. Once in a while. It’s not just the one show. It’s the whole platform. It’s been great. They were very good to me at ESPN. I had a great run there. CBS has been awesome. It’s a great company to work for. They give me a lot of support. I’ve never once looked back.
It’s a big picture thing. I’m not so locked in that it’s just the TV show. I’m reaching so many different places across the platforms. Once I made the decision, once I’m in, I’m all in. It might sound trite, but I’m trying to do the best TV show I can do every single day. That’s what I’m focused on. It’s going to take some time. As long as I can do a TV show I’m proud of, that’s the only thing that matters.
So no buyer’s remorse?
I’m not like that. I thought about this for a long, long time. Once I decided to do it, I was all in. No buyer’s remorse at all.
I know what I signed up for. I understand where I am right now. I know I’m supposed to help drive the eyeballs to this network.