BRISTOL, Conn. — Pioneers?
Well, by their own admissions, the producers of ESPN's SportsNation don't consider themselves pioneers, but they are onto a new concept of television that keeps viewers involved throughout the show.
Coordinating Producer Jamie Horowitz and producers Kevin Wildes and Dave Jacoby developed the show in 2008, but their creation didn't come to life until Colin Cowherd and Michelle Beadle graced the set of the show for the first time on July 6, 2009.
Ideology behind the show is simple: Combine communications technology with the hottest topics in sports. Throw in two hosts that gel together and a few videos of chipmunks playing soccer, and you've got a hit.
"We wanted to do three things with the show," Wildes said. "Inform, amuse, and interact. So every segment we do, we try to be informative first, interactive with SportsNation.com, and finally we try to amuse you a little bit. I'd say we're doing a halfway decent job so far."
"We want to embrace the Internet and every social media out there," Beadle said. "Everyone behind the scenes is young, cool, and hip—more so than we [Colin and I] are! And they are in charge of figuring all of that out."
That online visibility fuels the show that usually airs daily on ESPN2 at 4:00 p.m. Tweeters supply producers with links to the funniest stuff and the best commentary on the Web.
"If they had asked us to create a show for Saturday evening or Sunday morning, you would see a drastically different show," Horowitz said. "We tailored this show for weekday afternoons."
SportsNation’s focus is making you laugh while providing the sports commentary to get you through the workday. That combo equates to staying power for Beadle and Cowherd's "Nation."
"The show is liked within the building," Cowherd said. "Anchors like it. Writers like it. When something is liked within the building, it has a much better chance of succeeding."
The show typifies ESPN. The slogan thrown around the building is everyone at ESPN is a sports fan with a "great job in television." Since SportsNation is a show for the fan, everyone—not just the top producers and talent—has a say in what makes the air.
"It's not just us. It's not just two producers. PA's have a say," Beadle said. "Everyone has a say. Nobody's told to be quiet or to shut up or ‘That doesn't count.’ We're all kind of in it.
"It's one big team, and I like it. That sounds of kind of cheesy. Wow. But that's how it is," Beadle laughed.
The team effort means the show constantly evolves. When SportsNation debuted, there was no studio audience. Now, three rows of bleachers are filled, usually by employees or friends and family, cheering and heckling their way through the show. Other producers and staff of the show stand behind the camera, tossing out the jeers and commentary viewers can sometimes hear.
The show might evolve again, as the two producers Kevin Wildes and Jamie Horowitz have discussed putting a microphone near the bleachers. Only Beadle’s and Cowherd's microphones pick up bleacher bum comments, leaving a very entertaining element of the show off the air.
For now, Beadle's and Cowherd's commentaries drive the show, and that certainly isn't a bad thing. The two comprise perhaps ESPN's best duo since Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon arrived to host "Pardon the Interruption."
Before Cowherd and Beadle ever debate a topic on the air, the debate takes place in the newsroom first.
"The debates we have on the show, we need to be able to have without Michelle and Colin," Horowitz explained. "Kevin and I will have them in the newsroom, and, if it fails there, if it isn't interesting there, then all of a sudden it probably isn't going to get interesting on television."
That formula keeps SportsNation interesting for its hour a day leading up to "Around the Horn" and "PTI." ESPN might have finally found a program to fill the late afternoon block.
Jameson Fleming is currently a freelance reporter. For more from Jameson, follow him (@JamesonFleming) on Twitter. Photo belongs to © 2010 Jameson Fleming.