We’re hearing that for months now, ESPN has been trying to secure a host for a late-night TV show it has in the works. Yes, a late-night TV show not unlike Letterman or Leno, but obviously centered around sports with a dollop of entertainment.
According to sources, three recognizable names have been approached about hosting the show, and all of them passed: ESPN radio host Colin Cowherd, Jason Whitlock of the KC Star, and 790 the Ticket radio host Dan LeBatard.
Can a show like this even work? With swings and misses on ESPN Hollywood and Stephen A. Smith’s show, is this crossover between sports and entertainment something that sports fans aren’t interested in watching? As for the host, if ESPN is forced to look in-house, does Bill Simmons have the TV experience for this? Rick Reilly?
So what have we learned? One, Cowherd, Whitlock and LeBatard all have reasonably competent agents, and two, it is extremely unlikely ESPN will be able to make a show like this both funny and acceptable to their sports overlords. Here’s why it could work, but never will.
The only way that ESPN could make a show like this work is by making the show a parody of a sports latenight show the way Letterman’s show is constantly parodying (gently) the late night show format and TV in general. It would have to be like the Daily Show and totally willing to mock, rip and destroy all the hypocrisy around it in the world of sports and entertainment… the problem is, ESPN will never go for that degree of mockery, parody and, inevitably, criticism. ESPN has proven to have extraordinary thin skin and there is not a chance in hell that folks at the network have the vision, patience, and understanding required to make this format successful.
It would have to be a sports late-night show willing to wink at the absurdity of the format (Letterman for retards) and the subject matter (sports, which are even more humorless than politics). It would literally have to be Deadspin TV (at least in tone), but ESPN, which relies on these leagues and players for so much direct income, cannot afford to have a loose cannon running around calling a spade a spade.
The truly unfortunate thing is that there are people out there who could host this. The aforementioned Simmons probably could. Will Leitch definitely could if he could just slow-the-hell-down when he talks. Klosterman could do it. Even Kimmel could conceivably get the drift of a show like this. But it won’t ever be able to come from ESPN. It might not even be able to come from place like Comedy Central thanks to its links to Viacom and therefore the NFL, NCAA, PGA and Augusta National – all obvious targets for a show like this.