SBJ/Aug. 5-11, 2013/Media

You want fun shows, Fox Sports 1? Take a chance on these

John Ourand
No phony debate. More reporters reporting. Fewer ex-athletes spouting clichés. Cut the canned laughter.

These are some of my wishes for Fox Sports 1, as the Fox Sports Media Group prepares the channel’s Aug. 17 launch.
The success of any sports network depends on its live rights, which consistently will bring in the biggest audiences. Still, the main way for a channel to stand out from its competitors outside of live rights is with studio and shoulder programming.

Fox Sports is emphasizing “fun” as a way to differentiate Fox Sports 1 from ESPN. Here are some ideas for shows that I think would be fun. I’m sure most won’t see the light of day. But if these shows made Fox Sports 1’s schedule, I’d tune in.

> Watching games with David Hill

Fox Sports’ biggest personality isn’t Terry Bradshaw or Jay Glazer. It’s former Fox Sports Chairman David Hill, who recently agreed to oversee Fox’s “American Idol” and “The X-Factor.” For me, must-see TV would be a monthly show where Hill talks about Fox Sports and shows off his personality and knowledge of the business.
I would have him answer fan questions about Fox’s telecasts. Why has Fox kept Tim McCarver in the MLB booth for so long? Hill would use footage from Fox games to show why he thinks McCarver still is effective as a baseball analyst. Fox could use this platform to introduce McCarver’s replacement, show viewers the different announcing teams covering NFL games, preview and review game productions.

The show also could be part “Sport Science.” It would be fascinating to watch the broadcasting legend who oversaw the launch of the Fox Box and the introduction of the glowing hockey puck talk about new production tools in the business.

> Battle of the Fox stars

Could you imagine Jason Whitlock racing Regis Philbin in a 100-yard dash? How about Andy Roddick swimming against Troy Aikman or maybe Michael Strahan and Bradshaw playing soccer against Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole?

Is this a cheesy idea? Absolutely! But the old “Battle of the Network Stars” is one of TV’s most endearing shows. Fox Sports has hired enough talent for this channel to create its own version. Fox could bring in stars from its other networks (Would Simon Cowell race Bill O’Reilly? Would he box O’Reilly?). Maybe Fox executives would view “American Gladiators” as more emblematic of the Fox attitude. Either way, I’d check this show out.

> Behind the scenes

How does Fox Sports decide what to cover on its NFL pregame show? Why did “Fox Sports Live” lead with one highlight over another? Packaged into a weekly half-hour, this would make for interesting TV that I’d watch.
A behind-the-scenes show should interest Fox, too. Some of the new network’s biggest stars are on Fox’s NFL pregame show and FS1’s 11 p.m. “Fox Sports Live.” Fox needs them on camera, and a behind-the-scenes look at how they create each show is an easy way to do it.

> Wide World of Sports

Barrel jumping? Australian rules football? Curling? Why not? Fox can piggyback off the TV sports relationships News Corp. has developed across the globe to bring viewers “the constant variety of sport.” This type of show gives Fox Sports 1 an opportunity to present sports that typically don’t make it onto U.S. TV screens. But it’s also a chance for Fox Sports 1 to focus on non-NFL programming. NFL shows get such high ratings that it’s easy to see why there are so many of them on so many networks. But enough! This type of show can help Fox Sports 1 be different from its competitors and move away from an all-NFL, all-the-time mentality.

> TMZ-ification
 
“TMZ on TV” is a guilty pleasure. I won’t admit to watching a similar show focused on athletes. But I’d be well aware of what it covers. This is a show that will create buzz and is tailor-made for creating viral hits. Video of athletes or sports executives leaving nightclubs and answering questions at airports almost certainly would be picked up by sports blogs.

> “Hell’s Kitchen,” football style

Fox found a hit by having Gordon Ramsay whip wanna-be chefs into shape. Why not produce a similar show with Fox NFL analyst Jimmy Johnson? I envision a show with Johnson spending time with perennially losing high school football teams, taking over practices and offering advice to coaches and players to try to play better and win a game.

> Meet the (New) Press

What’s a sports channel without a sports reporters show? But instead of most sports reporters shows, this would focus on the under-30 crowd. I’d invite bloggers or young reporters — nobody over the age of 30 — to talk about the sports issues that interest them. Get Whitlock to host the show, which would guarantee it will have strong opinions.

> Hard-hitting newsmagazine show

OK, there’s nothing “fun” about this type of show. And every other network has its own version, from ESPN’s “OTL” and Showtime’s “60 Minutes Sports” to HBO’s “Real Sports” and NBC’s “Costas Now.”

But if Fox Sports 1 is going to be positioned as the network of fun, it needs at least one signature show that shows off its journalistic chops. It needs to hire the types of reporters who can do these types of investigative stories (Ken Rosenthal is not enough). I will watch to see whether Fox’s executive ranks have the nerve to run the type of stories that upset their network partners.

John Ourand can be reached at jourand@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.

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