Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 21 No. 30
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.

Fox Sports 1 anchors bring their own style

Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole, a tandem of Canadian sports anchormen who do not take sports too seriously, also don’t seem too fazed by the pressure of moving to Los Angeles to become two of the faces of the new Fox Sports 1.

Onrait (left) and O’Toole created their
chemistry working on TSN’s “SportsCentre.”
“The biggest problem for me will be trying to get my U.S. driver’s license,” Onrait said. “I hear the line at the Department of Motor Vehicles in L.A. can be a nightmare.”

As hosts of the network’s “Fox Sports Live,” debuting at 11 p.m. ET when Fox Sports 1 launches on Saturday, the former late-night anchors of TSN’s “SportsCentre” have the potential to be seen by many more viewers than they’ve had in the past. There are 34 million people in Canada. At Fox Sports 1, pending completion of some carriage deals, Onrait and O’Toole’s new TV home will be available in as many as 90 million household.

Going Canadian

Born: Aug. 29, 1974
Raised: Althabasca, Alberta
College: Ryerson University
Experience: TSN, CTV, NHL Network Canada
Personal: Single
Quote: “I loved watching Nick Charles and Fred Hickman on CNN when I was young. Those guys were so smooth.”

Born: Sept. 10, 1975
Raised: Peterborough, Ontario
College: Algonquin College
Experience: TSN, CityTV in Vancouver, CTV Edmonton
Personal: Married (Corrie) with two children
Quote: “When Jay and I carve out our niche at Fox Sports 1, I’m confident that people will get in on the joke.”

Onrait, 38, and O’Toole, 37, also will be at the helm of a three-hour telecast instead of the one-hour late show they did for 10 years at TSN. Unlike at TSN, where the two-man comedy team dominated the show, Onrait and O’Toole will split “Fox Sports Live” airtime evenly with a panel, led by ex-ESPNer Charissa Thompson and featuring former athletes such as Andy Roddick, Gary Payton and Donovan McNabb.

None of this will alter their style, the anchors say. Fox executives knew what they were getting when they signed Onrait and O’Toole to two-year contracts, with the network holding additional two-year options on each.

“Fox told us we didn’t have to change the way we do the show,” O’Toole said. “I know 100 percent that Jay and I aren’t going to change what we do.”

But will the comic sensibilities of Onrait, from Alberta, and O’Toole, from Ontario, connect with American audiences?

“Comedy is universal,” O’Toole said. “If we were only doing [former Canadian Prime Minister] Brian Mulroney jokes, it might be different. That’s not what we do. We have fun with sports.”

Besides, Onrait said, his brand of humor has been influenced by an American talk-show host.

“When I was growing up in Northern Alberta, I would set the VCR for ‘Late Night’ on NBC and race home from school the next day to watch David Letterman,” he said. “I was obsessed with it. It was a revelation. There wasn’t much of a budget, and it was so much less polished than everything else on television at the time. That was the philosophy Dan and I took to the TSN show.”

But with the move to Fox Sports 1 and the inevitable comparisons to the self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader come raised stakes. “SportsCenter” is ESPN’s flagship, 11 p.m. ET program. At the outset, “Fox Sports Live” will be scrutinized as the upstart. Broadcast critics from Sports Illustrated to Awful Announcing are waiting to review the show and its Canadian co-hosts.

Onrait and O’Toole will split time with Charissa Thompson and a panel of former athletes.
“I feel zero pressure,” Onrait said. “We’re a straight-forward sports highlight show with some humor. That’s what we’ve done for 10 years. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I don’t even like the idea of trying to incorporate guest spots from actors into the show.”

Told that since he’s now working for Fox in Hollywood, celebrity cameos probably should be expected, Onrait joked, “My hope is that falls in Charissa’s lap. She’s a much more polished broadcaster than I am.”

Onrait, O’Toole, Thompson and the panel rehearsed the show all last week, going “live” — just not on the air — for three hours nightly from Los Angeles, reporting on and debating each day’s sports events.

“After the first rehearsal, actually after the first half-hour, I felt like we were ready to roll,” Onrait said.

“Fox Sports Live” does have one advantage out of the gate compared to other new shows. Fox Sports 1 did not sign a pair of announcers for the show who could need several months to find their chemistry. As O’Toole said, he and Onrait already have become the best of friends and finish each other’s sentences on and off the air.

Fox Sports 1 is convinced Onrait and O’Toole will be successful.

“They make me laugh,” said Scott Ackerson, Fox Sports executive vice president of studio production, who worked for ESPN on programs like “SportsCenter” and “NFL Primetime” for eight years before joining Fox Sports in 1994. “Jay and Dan are a likable watch. It doesn’t go any deeper than that. People like them, and I haven’t seen anything in rehearsals that makes me think differently. You never know in TV, but I’m hopeful that this is going to work.”