Mike and the Mad Dog.

Director -Daniel H. Forer

Length – 50 minutes without commercials, 60 minutes with.

Installment – #91 by ESPN’s count (#92 by mine counting the OJ doc as one installment, although ESPN initially counted it as 5 different 30 for 30s, but now seems to list it separately, not as part of the series. Additionally, one finished project in Down In The Valley has been suspended from airing.)

Most Similar To – Bernie and Ernie, The Legend of Jimmy The Greek

Grade/Ranking – Low 60s of 90 installments

Review-The following actually isn’t much of a review, scroll down further if you want the straight review.

The above tweet is something I’ve said a lot of lately. That more or less, the national interest is probably not there for some of the more recent installments but hey, if the bulk of local viewers tune in and like it, you can put another win on the board for 30 for 30.

The thing that struck me is how much of a hard sell this is at the national level. I had a friend in town and while catching up at dinner he inquired what I was doing later that evening, likely in search of some level of tomfoolery. I told him I was watching this 30 for 30 which he inquired to know more about. The conversation was more or less this:

“It’s about Mike Francesa and Mad Dog.”

“I have no idea who or what that is.”

“They are big time sports talk radio hosts in New York. They were cohosts for awhile but then split up and had a bit of a falling out.”

“Ok. Is that it?”

“Um, yeah. I mean, they kind of made sports talk radio what it is today, and have this huge fanatical following, but yeah, that’s it.”

It’s not fair for me to point out this installment alone as being a bit too niche, as many installments fall into that bucket. Now that said, looking back at the majority of those installments, the bulk of them had a much more high-stakes narrative, with a lot of installments focusing on death.  Terry Fox, Eddie Aikau, Tim Richmond, Ben Wilson, and Nick Piantanida at first glance don’t seem like they’d be noteworthy characters for a 30 for 30, but given the unique circumstances of their deaths, I think it was easier for national interest in those installments to build organically. I think for most viewers unaware of Francesa and Mad Dog, my friend’s sentiment of “That’s it?” will be shared by many.

Ok, reviewing for real……

I did enjoy this installment. Both Francesa and Mad Dog are compelling characters, and my interest in sports media coupled with the short one-hour viewing time, made this an enjoyable and breezy installment to watch.

The film relies more heavily on interviews than most, given that the subject matter doesn’t lend itself well to highlight footage like most sports documentaries. That’s where a lot of sports documentaries have petered out; if the subject matter extends so far back that there is not much archival footage. But there are enough colorful interviews and some sprinkled-in footage from when their show was simulcast on television, so it does have some level of flow to it and isn’t just interviews stacked on top of each other for a full hour.

Unlike last year’s Doc & Daryl film, I think the timing was right here for this topic. Both  Francesa and Mad Dog seemed to have the right amount of perspective and time away from each other from their split to candidly and accurately portray the highs and lows of their relationship. That, to me, was crucial and director Daniel H. Forer and ESPN got that right. I think that’s the biggest takeaway here.

What I do worry about is if there is enough new content here for the intended audience. A few years back Grantland did an Oral History on WFAN that had some level of overlap with this film. Given how fanatical fans of Francesa and Mad Dog are, I’m wondering if the reaction might be “It was good, but I didn’t learn anything new.”

Ultimately, this is a pretty low-stakes passion project for ESPN. It’s one hour on a night where no major league or conference has a game on, and there is no real lead-in for this time slot. ESPN can make these type of bets, but it’s rare you see them under the 30 for 30 banner and not some of the other documentary brands they have, which is a whole other conversation. Bottom line, the tweet at the beginning of this article is what it boils down to. But I certainly appreciate you reading 700 words of mine.

Mike and the Mad Dog premieres Thursday, July 13 at 8 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.

About Ben Koo

Copying and pasting my Twitter bio. I'm also refusing (for now) to write this in the third person. This is me - EIC and CEO at @comeback_sports and @AwfulAnnouncing, world's greatest chinese jew, proud Buckeye, funny dude, and sports and digital media zealot.

  • Jcool

    “they kind of made sports talk radio what it is today”

    Not sure how that can be true when no one outside of NY knows who they are.

    • Walt_Gekko

      Their influence rubbed off on many others who heard it and took it back to where they are. The format as you know it today goes back to what Mike/Dog started in 1989.

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    • PublicImageLTD

      Same way Howard Stern was copied in every market in US even before he was syndicated to that market. Program Directors and radio hosts would get tapes- recordings, and essentially try to copy the blueprint. But the originals are always the best.

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  • waynebeamer

    I was listening to sports talk in Houston in the 70s long before these two made it on air. Hearing or seeing them now, how could anyone listening to those two for more then five minutes… together? The growing success of WSCR in Chicago over 25 years is a much more interesting story than those two clowns.

    • Walt_Gekko

      Sure, you had SOME sports talk radio around in the ’70s outside New York I’m sure (Sports Talk Radio of any kind in New York debuted on WABC in March 1981 with the debut of Art Rust, Jr.’s show), but while for instance WFAN itself actually debuted on July 1, 1987 and actually was preceded by a few months in Philly by WIP going to a sports talk format, it REALLY began to be formulated as we know it today by what “Mike and The Mad Dog” did starting in 1989. They set in motion how it was done, presented and so forth and a lot of how you hear sports talk today traces back to Mike Francesca and Chris Russo and how they did it on WFAN (where Francesca remains for a few more months).

      This is an important 30 for 30 because of how much influence Mike/Dog really had on the format of sports talk radio and shaping it the way you hear it today.

      • PublicImageLTD

        I bet Angelo Cataldi and Howard Eskin, who made WIP in Philly (the real first all-sports talk station in America) are pissed there’s no 30 for 30 about them and WIP.
        Anyways, I enjoy Dog a lot on Sirius.

        • Walt_Gekko

          WIP actually was first, as Tom Brookshire actually left CBS after the 1986 NFL season to develop WIP into the first Sports Talk station. WFAN simply became better known, especially once Mike & The Mad Dog took off (until Boomer & Carton in 2007, WFAN never had a comparable morning show to WIP because they inherited Imus when WFAN moved from 1050 to 660 when GE was forced to end NBC Radio in 1988 and Imus was a HUGE money-maker).

  • I used to listen to them, and I couldn’t care less about this either. Both are way past their expiration date.

    • Walt_Gekko

      Francesca, probably, but the fact is, in their heyday they SHAPED sports talk radio into what it is today.

      • MrBeepo

        So we can blame them?

        • Walt_Gekko

          They can not be “blamed.” They shaped sports talk radio as a whole. Many who listened to then followed along with how it was done and built into what it is today.

  • Walt_Gekko

    Mike and The Mad Dog was for many years THE show to listen to. Love or hate Mike Francesca and Chris Russo, they truly did SHAPE how Sports Talk Radio is presented and heard today in many instances. Their influence is felt by the many who worked with and under them who have over the years passed that along to many others.

  • el TiMbo Libre

    Seeing as ESPN has gone all in on Embrace Debate, they may as well show their viewers what sewer pipe it all started gushing from.

  • Kyle J

    I live in STL and am well aware of M&MD. I liked the doc alot.