Last year’s Holey Moley extreme mini-golf show on ABC, executive produced by Steph Curry and featuring Joe Tessitore and Rob Riggle as commentators, was a lot of fun, and it spawned follow-up Holey Moley II: The Sequel, which premieres Thursday night at 9/8 Central. Tessitore spoke to AA last year ahead of the show’s debut about how he loved “the chance to have a lot of fun, in a sports media world where I just think we need to have more of it,” and he spoke with us again last week about Holey Moley II, how it compares to some of the wacky content shown on ABC’s Wide World of Sports back in the day, and what’s ahead for him personally at ESPN and ABC after Monday Night Football. To start with, Tessitore said this year’s Holey Moley was even more enjoyable to film, with the numbers of holes created for this going from 10 to 18 and getting even wilder.
“It was so much more fun because they created so many more new holes. So a lot of days, there was a new hole reveal every single night. And then the other factor was last year, I was new to the production, everyone was new to the production. You don’t have your identity yet; what’s it going to look like, what’s it going to feel like, what’s the public perception going to be like. Now you’ve been on the air, you have found some success, the show has existed, the public understands it, the producers understand it better, we understand it better. There’s that phrase in broadcasting of ‘find your voice’; we have a sense of our voice, our roles.”
Speaking of roles, with Tessitore and Booger McFarland officially announced as leaving Monday Night Football earlier this month but taking on other roles at ESPN and ABC, Tessitore also spoke a bit on what’s ahead for him.
“There’s a lot going on right now, and thankfully, I am in such a good place in terms of being appreciative, grateful, joyful about where my life is. My family is safe and healthy, and with everything going on right now, my family is my number-one priority. That is truthfully where my head is at.”
“And Top Rank championship boxing is going to be one of the major sports that comes back [they announced plans for a June 9 start Wednesday] big, even more so than it already was, sooner rather than later. And I expect that when June comes around, I’ll be doing play-by-play and hosting on ESPN two to three times a week doing championship fights. And that’s something that has the ability to come back in a safe and regulated environment and helps fill this gap that we have right now in terms of live sports.”
“So I’m going to be very, very busy with Holey Moley and all the voiceover and after-production work and with Top Rank boxing at a championship level for months and months and months. So that’s really where my head is right now. And in terms of Monday Night Football, I will miss the crew greatly; they were incredible personal relationships that were developed. I will no longer be on Monday Night Football, but I will be extremely busy at the network in the coming months and years to come.”
For now, that’s with Holey Moley. And Tessitore said a big part of the fun with that show is the chemistry he’s developed with Riggle and the balance they’ve found between calling the action straight and laughing at the wildness of the show.
“Rob and I and the producers have picked up that this is actually a buddy comedy. Rob and I have spent a year and a half as partners, as friends, as teammates. We have that joyfulness of knowing that we’re going to accomplish something. So we go into year two and it’s just that comfort right away. All the stuff that we had to overcome in year one, finding the show, finding your voice, finding everybody’s role, finding the show’s identity, that’s gone, and now you can just have fun with it.”
“I’m the biggest Rob Riggle fan in the world, and not just because of his incredible career and versatility; the guy is wonderful. The guy is just such a great teammate. And I’ve had so many different partners on so many different sports, I don’t care if it’s doing the NFL or boxing or college football or horse racing on ABC back in the day, I’ve worked with every partner you’re going to throw at me, and he is as unselfish, as egoless, as talented as anybody I’ve ever worked with. So it’s easy to throw that pitch at him that he’s going to hit out of the park. And then he’s going to give it back to you. He’s a very generous broadcaster.”
“And the other thing is, there are certain people in your life that just make you laugh. When they speak, they make you laugh. And he’s that for me.”
Part of the appeal of Holey Moley‘s first season was the humor Tessitore and Riggle brought to it, with some comparing that to DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story announcers Cotton McKnight (Gary Cole) and Pepper Brooks (Jason Bateman). Tessitore said he thinks he and Riggle are bringing other inspirations to their roles, though.
“I’ve seen a lot of people make that Dodgeball comparison, and I get it, because they’re doing the trope of sports shows. But that’s actually not at all where I see relatability. It actually goes back, going all the way back to the 60s and the Smothers Brothers, the straight man as a funny man. Sometimes there’s a touch of Abbott and Costello.”
“Now, please understand, we are not the Smothers Brothers and we are not Abbott and Costello, we’re two absolute jackasses who for reasons unknown have been given the green light to show up on network television and broadcast extreme mini golf. That is a far departure from those greatly talented entertainers and that tradition.”
“But there’s somewhat of a similarity in the roles we play; I get to be the straight man, he gets to go absolutely off of the rails, and he breaks me, he breaks me all the time. And we get to be creative and do some unique things. And at the end of the day, what we thought was a primetime reality competition show was actually realized to be a buddy comedy, with incredibly good competition, with a lot on the line.”
Tessitore said he tries to avoid breaking into laughter, but that’s hard around Riggle.
“I’m introducing the hole straight, and out of the corner of my eye…and you’ve got to understand, we’re on that set from like 7:30 at night to like 5 in the morning…and I can see him do the slightest thing, tilt his head, give a look, move something. Or when I say a word, how he’ll react. And I’ll lose it.”
Of course, the wacky holes also contribute.
“Some of the holes that we have this year are built, I swear, they sat back in a production office and said ‘How can we get Joe to lose his mind on the broadcast? How can we do it?’…We’re going to have a space-themed hole titled Uranus, so I have to always say ‘Here’s this putt on Uranus.’ And Rob will play into it so madly. There were nights where I could not get through the hole description.”
“There are more holes than last year, and there are many wackier holes, and the holes constantly are changing, rotating. …We’ll be deep into the season and through to the final championship episode with new holes being revealed. And there’s the $250,000 final holes that are only being used once. There’s this magnificent, huge, incredibly expansive, detailed hole, and they’re only using it once, for the playoff to get into the quarter-million-dollar final. And wait until you see the final hole. It’s beyond belief.”
And some of the funny broadcast moments come from footage of Tessitore and Riggle reacting even when they’re not planned to be shown on screen. Tessitore said they’re being constantly filmed, which was an adjustment for him.
“From the moment they put the mic on us when we step onto that set until the moment we’re done at 5:30 in the morning when we leave that set, they’re still filming us. There’s moments where we’re not even sort of broadcasting that they cut in. And to me as a professional long-time broadcaster of other sports events, that’s just dangerous.”
Read on for Tessitore’s discussion of the ABC Sports gold blazers, how Holey Moley fits into ABC’s tradition of unusual sports broadcasts, and more.