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Volume 22 No. 27
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Finding the next TV star

From YouTube to Twitter, executives mine nontraditional outlets to find new on-air talent

A group of trick shot artists called Dude Perfect has more than 6 million YouTube subscribers and nearly 775 million YouTube views. If you haven’t heard of them, ask your kids. They’ll know.

ESPN executives know about them, too. The company’s talent department brought the five guys who make up Dude Perfect to its Bristol campus in January. The group appeared on several ESPN shows, but ESPN executives also were interested to see if they could develop a show together. ESPN saw the potential for a breakthrough in on-air personalities.

As a generational shift occurs in on-air talent, executives constantly are seeking new on-air faces that can relate to younger demos, or, even better, interact with them. That’s what attracted ESPN to Dude Perfect.

“They made a big social event out of [their trip to Bristol],” said Laurie Orlando, ESPN senior vice president of talent development and programming. “They were posting everything they were doing, and our Twitter feed blew up.”

The group, which has done videos on everything from pickup basketball stereotypes to amazing lacrosse trick shots, decided that it would rather stay independent, Orlando said. But the idea of ESPN looking to an outlet like YouTube for new talent is hardly unique. Orlando said her 14-year-old son brought Dude Perfect to her attention, and she immediately was smitten by the humor and action of their YouTube spots.

“That’s what we’re looking for; somebody — whether it’s a group of people or an individual — that we might be able to hire who could be a difference maker for us,” Orlando said. “You’re going to have a lot of misses before you get a go. But to me it’s worth the time because that’s where a lot of the unique talent hangs out.”

It’s searches like these that networks find to be critical. Successful talent can become the face of a network and change the fortunes of a show.

Sports executives echo Orlando’s viewpoint: Talent can be discovered in some of the least expected places. It’s not that the era of people sending tapes to networks in the hopes of being noticed is over. It’s not. Nowadays, though, talent departments from national networks are scouring everything from YouTube videos to Twitter feeds to find people who can work on-air.

“Everyone’s looking. Everyone’s aware,” said Eric Weinberger, NFL Network’s executive producer. “I’m conscious of people’s social feeds. It’s another opportunity other than just a face-to-face interview or seeing them on TV.”

SportsBusiness Journal asked several network executives to discuss how they find on-air talent. Here are five stories of how they made their decision.

FROM TRADITIONAL AUDITIONS

Former NFL players Adam Archuleta (left)  and Chris Simms took similar paths to CBS.
Photo by: Getty Images
Photo by: John Filo / CBS
Two of the newer faces on CBS Sports’ NFL programming are former players Chris Simms and Adam Archuleta, both of whom are slated to serve as analysts on four or five regional NFL games this season. And both arrived at CBS through largely traditional means.

Simms, whose father Phil is the network’s top NFL game analyst, worked some regional college football games for Fox Sports. CBS reached out to his agent, 16W Marketing’s Steve Rosner, brought him in for an audition and hired him as a studio analyst for NFL shows on CBS Sports Network. Eventually he worked himself onto the network as a game analyst, replacing Dan Dierdorf.

“Chris, obviously, has a fairly good contact at the network,” laughed Sean McManus, chairman of CBS Sports.

Archuleta, who had been doing work for Pac-12 Networks, approached CBS about an on-air role through his agents, CAA’s Tom Young and Andy Elkin.

“We did an audition with him, which we do for a lot of people,” McManus said. “We thought he had real potential.”

CBS hired Archuleta as a game analyst, replacing Randy Cross.

This season, they will both debut on CBS’s regional NFL action.

“Smaller, regional games are good ways to test them,” McManus said. “There’s no real exposure. There’s no real down side. They’ve both proven that they are very good at what they are doing, and I think they have a lot of potential. So we’ll be listening very carefully to them this year to see if there’s a bigger role for them in the future.”

FROM CABLE NEWS

Will Cain, one of ESPN’s most recent on-air hires, had virtually nothing to do with sports when ESPN first

Will Cain found his way to ESPN despite not having a background in sports.
Photo by: Joe Faraoni / ESPN
approached him about an on-air role two years ago.

ESPN’s vice president of talent strategy, negotiation and recruitment, Rob Savinelli, saw Cain one night serving as a conservative panelist on a CNN news show. Cain also appeared regularly on The Blaze, the TV network founded by Glenn Beck. Savinelli called Laurie Orlando, senior vice president of talent development and programming at ESPN, to suggest she take a look at Cain.

They were both impressed enough with his TV manner that the two self-described news junkies called Cain and asked to take him out for lunch. He impressed them with his smarts and his ability to be comfortable with both news and opinion programming.

“We’re not just looking in the sports sector,” Orlando said. “There are people who come from different backgrounds and can contribute that unique voice that we’re looking for without the sports training wheels.”

Savinelli and Orlando started a relationship with Cain over that lunch about two years ago. Four months ago, their relationship finally paid off in an on-air deal that has seen Cain appear on “SportsCenter,” “Outside the Lines” and “First Take.” Network executives feel Cain, who is represented by CAA’s Tom Young, has the potential to be a multiplatform talent: He has held his own on the debate show “First Take;” showed journalistic chops on “SportsCenter;” and he has produced features on “OTL.”

“That’s a fairly good snapshot of what the process is like,” Orlando said. “We got to know Will. We pursued that relationship. And we stayed in touch. A couple of years later, we were negotiating a deal with his agent.”

FROM TWITTER

A few short years ago, nobody at the NFL had heard of Rand Getlin.

But NFL executives say it was Getlin’s Twitter feed that put him on the league’s radar — enough so that it hired Getlin as a national reporter last month. NFL Media executives say Getlin broke news on his Twitter feed as frequently as top NFL reporters, particularly during the time when Ndamukong Suh signed with the Miami Dolphins.

Rand Getlin’s reputation for breaking news on Twitter landed him at NFL Network.
“About a year ago, people in the NFL information world started noticing that there was another person supplying this breaking news and information, along with Ian Rapoport, Adam Schefter, Jason La Canfora, Jay Glazer and Peter King,” said Eric Weinberger, NFL Network executive producer. “He started really popping for us.”

Getlin had a big platform already. After all, he was Yahoo Sports’ NFL Insider. But NFL executives say it was Getlin’s Twitter feed that they really noticed.

The NFL is comfortable that Getlin, who is also represented by CAA’s Tom Young, will work well on television based on his guest appearances on Jim Rome’s show.

“I feel like the TV part can be taught, especially if you have the content,” Weinberger said. “He is so knowledgeable about the content, that by just getting more and more airtime, he will get better. You can’t fake the information. You can’t fake the knowledge. But you can learn how to be on TV.”

FROM LOCAL TV

About five years ago, CSN Bay Area’s Chris Olivere came across a reel for Carolyn Manno, who was looking for an on-air position among NBC Sports Group’s regional sports networks. Olivere was impressed enough that he sent the reel to Princell Hair, senior vice president of news and talent for NBC Sports Group, and suggested he take a look.

Hair was intrigued by Manno’s tape from her years as an on-air sports reporter in South Bend, Ind. But Hair had

Carolyn Manno
Photo by: NBC Sports
trouble making time in his schedule to meet with her. Finally, they arranged to meet at a Blackhawks game in Chicago, essentially conducting an interview during the game.

“We spent two and a half to three hours watching the game,” Hair recalled. “I got to know her a little bit. Within a couple of weeks, I made her an offer.”

Hair hired Manno for NBC Sports Group’s regional sports network in New England. After close to three years, Manno applied for a national reporter role with some fill-in hosting duties across NBC Sports Group. Hair said she beat out several candidates to land that job, which sees her appear on both NBC Sports and NBC Sports Network.

At the time, Manno was represented by Evolution Group’s Seth Mayeri. She’s now represented by CAA’s Nick Khan.

“The way it happened — an internal referral, she got the opportunity in New England, she got noticed by our folks here, and we had an opportunity that availed itself at the national level — that’s a pretty typical process in hiring talent,” he said. “We did our due diligence and looked at all candidates both internal and external, and she was the one who bubbled up to the surface.”

FROM SPORTS RADIO

Craig Barry, Turner Sports’ senior vice president of production and executive creative director, listened to Casey Stern’s baseball show on Sirius Satellite Radio most days as he drove into work, and he became fascinated with the radio host. The more Barry listened to Stern, the more he thought Stern would be a good fit for Turner’s MLB postseason studio show. Stern managed his show well and conducted interesting interviews, Barry said.

Turner Sports executives were drawn to Casey Stern’s baseball knowledge.
Photo by: Turner Sports
Barry told several colleagues to listen to the satellite radio show, and they all were impressed enough to pursue a relationship with Stern.

“I never even saw him until we had the first meeting with him,” Barry said. “If Ernie Johnson sets the bar as a studio host, Casey Stern is someone we thought could potentially fit in that same mold.”

Four Turner Sports executives — Lenny Daniels, Scooter Vertino, Tara August and Barry — took Stern out to lunch to Porter House steakhouse in New York’s Time Warner Center. Soon after, Turner hired Stern to host its MLB postseason studio show, starting with the 2014 playoffs.

“When we left that lunch, we were convinced that he was our guy,” Barry said. “We had already listened to him. We were already aware of what he was capable of. At this point in time, we were looking at a bunch of hosts — really experienced hosts, hosts that had done a bunch of different sports. This was a kid that we felt not only had this extreme wealth of baseball knowledge, but he was charismatic and seemed like he would get along with everybody.”

Stern is represented by Rick Diamond with Evolution Group.