Scott Van Pelt made big news this summer with the decision to leave his daily radio program and focus on a new venture for ESPN, taking over as host of the new, re-vamped midnight ET SportsCenter. Van Pelt’s version of ESPN’s flagship show debuts on Monday, September 7, immediately following the Ohio State-Virginia Tech football game on ESPN. ESPN made Van Pelt available for an interview to plug the new show, and we talked about the plans to put his spin on the traditional highlight-driven program, how many people it takes to produce a show like this, what “musical elements” they have planned and what the target audience is for a show that’s midnight in the east, but 9 p.m. out west.
Then I asked SVP to name every current or former SportsCenter anchor—or at least as many as he could—in 60 seconds. That audio is below. Note to anyone trying this at home: as Van Pelt can attest, do not attempt that while driving.
AA: ESPN sent out a release about your new midnight SportsCenter and it says, “it’s still SportsCenter, ” so it feels to me like they’re trying to give a hard sell, that it’s the soul of SportsCenter but it’s a totally different show. Was there thought of just making this the “Scott Van Pelt Nightly Sports Extravaganza” or was this always going to be SportsCenter?
SVP: “I think the ’still SportsCenter’ wasn’t my directive, but I’ve gone out of my way to put that out simply because I was afraid that there was some misnomer, post-Upfronts, that this was some variety show, that’d we’d be doing sketch comedy with actresses and actors pimping their next film and a musical act coming around 12:4ish. It’s still SportsCenter, and I want that to be clear because it’s our version of it. That’s all. I’m the host and we’ve got a great crew that will help put together the rundown as we see fit, daily. Ultimately, from midnight to 1 a.m. (ET) you’ve got a bunch of results of games that we’ll show highlights of and talk about. It’s important that it’s clear it’s not the “Scott Van Pelt Sports Extravaganza” that would be an hour of excess that no one’s ego—I shouldn’t say no one—my ego is not such that I would even care to talk for an hour about things I think.”
— Scott Van Pelt (@notthefakeSVP) August 13, 2015
You mentioned 12:45, and I wrote when this news first came out that you were leaving radio and doing this that if you’re not laying across a grand piano with your tie undone regaling the audience with tales of The Vous (bar) at Maryland, then you’re not doing your job. So what is the ‘musical element’ going to be, and how much ‘undoing of the tie’ is there going to be halfway through the show?
“I don’t plan on it right now. That’s an interesting sort of concept—people have asked me ‘are you going to go no tie, et cetera,’ and I’ve always felt that if I was anchoring SportsCenter I would wear a suit and tie because that’s sort of in my brain what I picture.
“Musically, the idea—I tweeted out some stuff because Trombone Shorty came by, which was really cool. That’s just from the radio bit we did where we picked games, that was the musical bed. The idea that we wanted to use that I just floated it out there to them, asking if there was any way for this to happen. And the next thing I know he’s in the studio with his whole band playing this song.
“The issue for us, obviously from radio to TV is the rights and that pesky little bit of having to pay people to use it. It won’t be the same as rejoins and such in radio, which is a shame because I’d love that. I think it sets a certain tone and a feel if things sound the way you want them to sound. But I don’t have musical acts planned, yet again, I’ve said many times I don’t feel like the idea of this show is fully formed. We’ll start (September) 7th and if it turns out that musical acts start wanting to come by at midnight to Bristol, Connecticut and let it rip…maybe that’ll happen.”
In the release they mention some of the people coming over from your radio show. How big is the crew? Can you give me little window of what it takes to put on a SportsCenter? How many people are involved, talking about all these bits you’re going to have—some you are taking from radio, some are new—that takes a lot of people to do, and you’re not doing this all yourself. How many people are in your network of doing the show?
“When we’ve met, and we’ve been meeting throughout the summer and will obviously be ramping up much more specific actual run-thrus of ‘alright here’s rundowns we’ve come up with collectively, let’s go try to execute them,’ and in the room I want to say there must be about 10 people. That doesn’t count the folks who will be committed to cutting highlights on a given night. But from Tom DeCorte, who is the main producer and “Stanford Steve” (Coughlin) who was my radio producer, who will have an on-air presence, on down to layers of production people, it’s a room of about 10 folks. And then we’ve got some really bright and talented people above us—the Mike McQuades and Rob Kings of the world. They’re not going to be in the kitchen, so to speak, saying ‘hey you need to flip the burger’ because they recognize that we can cook what we’re trying to cook here, but it’s nice to know that they’re at least interested in what’s going on.
“It’s a great group of really talented people. The cool thing is, I don’t want to say I picked DeCorte, but I didn’t want to do it if he wasn’t going to be involved and I didn’t want to do it if “Stanford Steve” wasn’t going to be involved and they picked folks that they didn’t want to do it if these production folks weren’t part of it. We got a relatively lean crew—there are certainly shows with more—but the people we’ve got are all really talented. I think they’re looking forward to being a part of a show that is kind of a stand alone. It is still SportsCenter, but it will be ours and our version of it.
Two weeks from tonight, we'll see you after Ohio State/VT for the first show. Still SportsCenter, just our version of it. Ready to get going
— Scott Van Pelt (@notthefakeSVP) August 24, 2015
What’s going to happen, though, if you have these plans with different segments and interviews and things like that, what happens when the Dodgers get no-hit again? And you’ve done evening (and late night) SportsCenter so this is nothing new when news breaks, but you’re going to be on during a lot of these games. So what’s the plan to sort of read and react? Is it going to be more free-wheeling? Are you going to have the ability to dump out of some of these bits if you have to because there’s breaking news going on?
“Listen, the stuff we do, the way I look at it—look at PTI, which is the best example of it whether it’s What’s the Word or Role Play—they have five or ten different ways to take a shot at the same news that everyone else is dissecting. We want to create the same type of cupboard full of ways to go about it. That said, if it’s a Wednesday and we’re looking forward to the biggest games in college football and, to your point, the Dodgers get no-hit, our clever little idea that we planned and worked on all night, well, that dies. Because that gets trumped by what happened.
“Ultimately that’s going to be on me to be a big boy to accept that our work does not live today. Some of our stuff might be evergreen and could live tomorrow, but there will be stuff that won’t make air that won’t ever have another shot and that’s fine, because the only reason it won’t make air is because something better happened. When something better happens, I like the way you described it, you ‘read and react’ to what there is. So we’ll do that, and especially in that window, things will happen. There will be results that are new that the best plays haven’t been on Vine and Twitter for five hours for everyone to see. We’ll still be showing folks something that perhaps not everyone has already seen.
— Scott Van Pelt (@notthefakeSVP) August 27, 2015
This is a little inside baseball, inside SportsCenter, but you have a segment planned called West Coast Bias, and they put in the release that a lot of people are going to be watching the show at 9 p.m. PT. But those people are either going to be watching Game of Thrones, or whatever show is on that day of the week, or they’re still watching the games you will be covering. So is that (West Coast Bias) a little tongue-in-cheek? Do you have to be conscious of the fact that most sports fans on the west coast are actually still going to be watching sports—that you’re still for that more late-night east coast, midwest audience, or do you think you’re going to get the west coast people who are looking for scores and updates but maybe don’t care about their local team?
“I don’t know the numbers, specifically, because it’s not my business to crunch them but what I’ve been told over the years, and I always found this interesting, was that the 11 p.m. ET SportsCenter did better out west than the 1 a.m. ET SportsCenter, the one that Neil (Everett) and Stan (Verrett) do. That also speaks to my experiences out west, that everywhere other than Vegas typically is not a late-night town.
“More specifically to what you’re asking, West Coast Bias is just a tongue-in-cheek way of us making fun of ourselves that, hey, let’s do a rip of the Giants, Dodgers, Mariners, Padres, D-Backs, whatever, and we’ll lump those in together all for you west coasters. Other than that, which is just again more tongue-in-cheek, the audience we are attempting to try to be there for is whoever turns up and is interested in watching. We figure it will be a spectrum from L.A. to New York to Chicago and everywhere in between. You can’t cater what you’re doing to any subset otherwise you’re doing local TV and you’ll never serve that audience the way a local crew can, because that’s what they do day in and day out.
“Again, It’s still SportsCenter and hopefully the best of it. And maybe, I don’t want to use the word clever because it implies the other shows are not, but I don’t want to run the same highlights that Bucci (John Buccigross) and (Steve) Levy will run at 11 and Neil and Stan will run at 1. I want to take a different path to the same games, to show something that we thought was interesting or odd or important, so that our version of that particular game is ours.
“That’s the most important way i can differentiate.”
Our thanks to SVP for taking the time to chat. Rather than transcribing, which can never capture the hilariousness of this exercise, here is audio of Van Pelt trying to name current and former SportsCenter anchors in 60 seconds.