The MEDIA Circus
Upon arriving at Talladega Superspeedway on May 3 for his network's broadcast of the week's NASCAR races, Fox Sports co-president Eric Shanks checked his iPhone and found what might have been a first for a U.S. network sports boss: The prime minister of Canada was commenting on one of his broadcasting hires.
Dismayed by the news that Jay Onrait and Dan O'Toole, the popular hosts of TSN's late-night SportsCentre show, were heading south of the border for a new gig at the upcoming Fox Sports 1, Canadian PM Stephen Harper tweeted out a photo of himself with the broadcasters, along with one final adieu: "Worst play of the day: Jay & Dan leaving TSN. Best of luck in the US, gents."
With their Letterman-inspired humor and deadpan timing, the TSN anchors enjoy a cult status in Canada comparable to that developed by Craig Kilborn, Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick on ESPN's SportsCenter in the 1990s. The duo first appeared on the radar of Fox Sports executives after a Wall Street Journal story last July that asked the following question in a headline: WHY CAN'T WE HAVE CANADA'S 'SPORTSCENTRE'?
Curious, Fox Sports execs watched YouTube clips of the pair. "We looked at a bunch of videos of them, and we were smitten," says Shanks.
Negotiations heated up earlier this year, and this month Fox Sports signed Onrait, 38, and O'Toole, 37 (as well as their longtime TSN producer, Tim Moriarty), to a multiyear deal to serve as anchors for Fox Sports Live, which will air nightly from Los Angeles from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. ET and will be Fox Sports 1's challenge to SportsCenter. Onrait and O'Toole will host their final SportsCentre on June 28 and debut in the U.S. on Aug. 17, when the new network launches. Fox Sports says viewers should think of Fox Sports Live as multiple shows inside a three-hour bloc. Onrait and O'Toole will appear on one side of a studio doing highlights while Charissa Thompson hosts a rotating panel of analysts, athletes and network personalities on the opposite side.
Asked how their humor will translate Stateside, Onrait channeled his inner George-Michael Bluth. "I don't think it's ever a good idea to change who you are," says Onrait. "Isn't that what Michael Cera said on Arrested Development? Our appeal is that we have a genuine friendship and chemistry, and we like to have fun. We are honestly not good enough broadcasters to change anything."