PHILADELPHIA -- – Donovan McNabb, Gary Payton, Andy Roddick and Gabe Kapler. If all goes well, these men of all (sports) seasons will one day collectively be the answer to a trivia question. Like the original MTV VJs.
They make up the charter panel of ex-jocks assembled by Fox Sports 1 to provide field-level perspective to the new channel’s flagship program, “Fox Sports Live.”
The challenge for FS1, which launched two weeks ago, is to copy the format of the industry’s predominant leader, ESPN, while at the same time add enough bells and whistles to give it a distinct identity.
Like “SportsCenter,” “Fox Sports Live” is essentially a full-tilt mix of scores, highlights and news, introduced by a pair of anchors (in Fox’s case, Canadian imports Jay Onrait and Dan O'Toole).
Periodically, the camera switches over to McNabb & Co. for a debate of the day’s sports issues. The discussions are moderated by the manifestly leggy Charissa Thompson. (Like Fox News, FS1 has an affinity for blonde on-air talent, a roster that includes Julie Stewart-Binks, Molly McGrath and Georgie Thompson.)
The channel’s regular schedule also includes a talk show (”Crowd Goes Wild,” hosted by Regis Philbin) and daily in-depth programs devoted to specific sports including pro football, soccer and car racing.
This week, it added “Mission October,” a sort of “Hard Knocks” for the baseball diamond. Each week between now and the World Series, the program will deliver an inside-the-dugout look at a different team in the playoff mix.
Preliminary reaction to Fox Sports from the journalists who watch TV sports for a living has been mixed.
Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch calls it “a mixed bag. I like the highlight readers Jay Onrait and Dan O'Toole. They’re smart and ironic. It will be interesting to see if they can turn on a dime when real news comes on the air.
“The panel is going to be a long haul,” he continues. “The chemistry needs some work and the discussions are disjointed.”
Overall he feels “it’s a significant work in progress. It’s going to be far different on Day 100 than it was on Day 5.”
The sports media columnist for the SB Nation website, Stephen Lapore, says, “I like the uniform production style but they haven’t figured out yet what they want to be in terms of content and talk.
“The best program so far is ‘Fox Football Daily' with Jay Glaser using his relationships with NFL insiders to break stories,” Lapore says. “The ‘Fox Sports Live' anchors are clever. But Regis seems disengaged (on “Crowd Goes Wild”). It’s like he’s waiting for his agent to call with the next game-show offer.”
Challenging an entrenched sovereign like ESPN, is of course, a daunting task.
“ESPN is the CNN of sports news,” says Lapore. “It’s on in the sports bars, in the hotel bars, in the college cafeterias.
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“It’s really tough to dig into a franchise like the one ESPN has going. I don’t know what Fox has up their sleeve but they better have something,” says Philadelphia radio sports talker Mike Missanelli. “When people trust a certain brand, they stick with it. It’s like Channel 6 in Philadelphia. All the other channels are always trying to win over their viewers and they can’t do it.”
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Both sides, Fox and ESPN, are keeping the competitive rhetoric mild, not wanting to provide the other guys with quotes to post on the studio wall.
“We have no grand illusions that that we will come on and be a ratings juggernaut,” says Bill Wagner, executive vice president of programming at Fox Sports. “We’re not setting ratings