Fox Sports Live 3.0 was unveiled Monday night, and it’s a long way from the first two versions. The original FSL mixed Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole doing highlights with a panel of athletes talking about other sports, while version 2.0 pivoted away from that to a highlights show with humor (much like the SportsCentres Onrait and O’Toole did in Canada).
Version 3.0? Through the first episode, it’s mostly a humor show, largely comprised of Onrait and O’Toole riffing on sports and non-sports topics of the day with substantial meta components, mixed with a featured interview and a few highlights. It’s a huge departure from any kind of highlights-focused show. In many ways, it’s a nightly sports show for an audience that’s either already seen or doesn’t care about the highlights.
The new version of Fox Sports Live feels like a sports-focused late night show, especially one that’s more the wackiness and bits of Craig Ferguson or Conan O’Brien than the more straightforward comedy of Jay Leno. In the sports arena, it will draw comparisons to FS1’s Garbage Time and NBCSN’s Men in Blazers (even combined with a small studio), and it stands up with those. It even has some features that elevate it beyond those shows, particularly the meta and self-deprecating humor. The meta jokes are some of the strongest parts here: check out this segment on how this intro compares to the initial Fox Sports Live 1.0 intro, and how you should never explain a new show:
However, the way FSL has largely abandoned highlights (and worked them in somewhat awkwardly when they did come up) won’t be a hit with everyone. It also shows how far away from both SportsCenter and SportsCentre this is. Consider just the intro:
For fans of Onrait and O’Toole, this new show should be an easy sell. It brings some of the humor and the interviews from their podcasts into a daily setting, and allows them the opportunity to riff on the sports news of the day. It’s more personality-focused than either FSL 1.0 or 2.0, and for those who are coming to see these guys’ funny takes on sports and sports media, that will be a key selling point. However, the duo still don’t have the biggest profiles in the U.S., something they riffed on in a “man on the street” (or should that be a “man on the beach”?) segment:
Thus, there may not be a ton of people who get what’s going on here initially, and that could be a problem. Many of FS1’s recent moves have seemed more about short-term results than long-term planning, and this show may be the sort of thing that needs time to catch on and thrive. It would seem likely that it’s going to be tweaked over time, too. The first episode was pretty solid overall, but there were a few awkward transitions, especially going into and coming out of the highlights, and some trial and error may be needed to find recurring segments that work consistently. We’ll see what the general reaction out there is and what the ratings are, but the sense from here is that this show could need a little time to find an audience.
The new Fox Sports Live would seem to have solid audience potential, though, and perhaps in a way that the 2.0 version didn’t. While 2.0 was an excellent sports highlights show on many fronts, it was still limited by being a sports highlights show, and thus faced the challenge of appealing to those viewers who already knew the news and the scores and could watch any of the highlights on their phones. That’s been a broader challenge of late, one that’s also affected ESPN’s SportsCenters, and that’s led to them redeveloping many of their various timeslots to offer different, more personality-focused versions.
Scott Van Pelt’s midnight show is the biggest example of this redefinition, but Lindsey Czarniak’s 6 p.m. Eastern edition and the 1 a.m. Eastern Neil Everett/Stan Verrett one have also gone this way. Even those have stuck to the highlights format in a much more significant way than the new FSL, though, and while that may make them an easier transition for audiences used to that, it restricts what they can do. FSL isn’t as restricted, and it’s using that freedom to show us something very different.
When ESPN’s deviated from the highlights format, it’s often done so by getting more serious. Many of the segments on Van Pelt’s show have that feel (consider his September monologue on daily fantasy), and the since-cancelled Olbermann definitely went that way, addressing bigger issues in sports and conducting very serious interviews. This new FSL is the polar opposite; it’s already the goofiest, funniest nightly sports show out there, and it has much more in common with Men in Blazers and Garbage Time than with Olbermann or any of the SportsCenters. Even the interviews are based in humor. Consider the one with Denny Hamlin, on how his appearance in their prop room inspired his Daytona strategy:
Of course, joking about sports on TV hasn’t always worked out so well. While both Men in Blazers and Garbage Time seem to be doing okay for now, other entries like Sports Soup or Sports Show with Norm Macdonald (elements of both of those can be seen in the new FSL, including snark like Matt Iseman’s and irreverence and meta jokes like Macdonald’s) didn’t last too long. In a lot of ways, though, the daily format may be a big edge for Jay and Dan here. The weekly format of all of those other shows meant much of the news they were discussing felt old. Doing this nightly keeps it topical, and offers the possibility of watching it becoming a routine, the way many would do with their late-night host of choice.
In fact, the whole format here feels very much like a daily late-night show, especially Ferguson’s or O’Brien’s. There are plenty of meta jokes and goofy segments, the interviews are generally more about comedy than seriousness, and this feels like something that would have enough night-to-night continuity to seem familiar without just being the same thing over and over again. Late-night TV is facing its own issues in a universe with so many programming options, of course, so it’s not a perfect model to go with, but it’s something we haven’t really seen on the sports front, and it’s quite conceivable the new FSL could develop a dedicated audience, one any highlights show wouldn’t really have reached.
In some ways, that’s a refreshing approach for Fox. While they launched with such promises of being an ESPN alternative, some of their more recent moves (especially since the ascension of former ESPN exec and “Embrace Debate” guru Jamie Horowitz in August), such as bringing in former ESPNers Colin Cowherd and Jason Whitlock, have felt like they’re either copying the worst of ESPN or taking ESPN’s worst and going even further. That’s led to the quest for viral hot takes, and it’s caused some to give up hope. The new FSL certainly isn’t part of that, though; this is humor, not hot takes, and there’s plenty of poking fun at the rest of their own channel (including a segment spotlighting Cowherd’s discussion of socks and Kristine Leahy’s reaction). This feels like the original “The 1 For Fun,” maybe even in a more fun, humor-focused way than Fox ever got to initially, and it’s much more along the lines of Garbage Time or Crowd Goes Wild than The Herd or Jason Whitlock’s House Party By The Bay (“Embrace Da Bay!”).
Will it work? Well, the example of SportsCentRE, the old Canadian show Onrait and O’Toole used to do, might be instructive. At first, they weren’t really given special billing initially or told to do humor, but were doing a standard highlights show as two of many anchors. The chemistry between them shone, though, and they started finding ways to get more and more funny segments into their show, sometimes to the consternation of executives. Audiences were at first somewhat confused by the unconventional approach, but it eventually caught on in a huge way, and Onrait and O’Toole became rock star anchors. (More on the publicity level of Rush than The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, but still.)
Onrait and O’Toole still have a giant following in Canada, one that’s still lamenting their exodus, and that’s thanks to their personalities and their humor. This new show seems like the perfect venue to show that off, and the Canadian example suggests it could potentially be a big hit with audiences if given enough time and if enough people find it. On this level, Fox’s decision to release these nightly shows as podcasts seems quite smart; that could be a good way to get people to check out what’s going on here when they’re not in front of a TV, and maybe that will lead to them deciding to tune in nightly.
This new format is certainly something that is miles away from what the competition is doing. There’s a lot of potential here, and if audiences embrace it, moving away from the competition and doing something completely different could work out well indeed for FSL.
There are several questions ahead, though. Will Fox be content to give this show a lot of time, or will they want to return to a more-conventional highlights show? Will Jay and Dan be able to maintain their humor when that’s the focus, rather than interspersed with the highlights? (Their podcast suggests yes, but a daily TV show can be a tougher grind this way than a weekly podcast.) Will the meta, network-deprecating references (“We did it!” “It’s been like 10 minutes.” “Well, you never know with this network, Dan.”) continue to fly with the bosses at Fox or resonate with viewers?
And most crucially, will there be enough of an audience for a nightly sports show that really isn’t about highlights? We’ll have to wait and find out.