Come For The Highlights, Stay for the Jay and Dan: Fox Sports Live Announces Its Lineup

Photo: Fox Sports

The lineup for Fox Sports 1’s nightly highlight show was officially announced today. As most of us already knew, “Fox Sports Live” will be a nightly, seven-days-a-week show that will be half highlights, half panel discussion sports shouting, with live anchor break-ins throughout the day to keep the new network current.

Starting on Aug. 17 at 11 p.m. ET, the show, and the network, will launch and try to reinvent the sports highlight show wheel. The highlight half of the program will be anchored by Canadian icons Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole, who were recently hired from Canada’s TSN. The updates throughout the day will be provided by Don Bell and Ryan Field, with contributions from correspondents Molly McGrath and Julie Stewart-Binks.

The other half of the nightly program – only Monday through Friday – will be a panel discussion hosted by former Michelle Beadle replacement Charissa Thompson, who completes her triumphant return to Fox after a stint at ESPN. (Los Angeles has much better weather than Bristol.) Joining Thompson on the panel will be former NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb, former NFL offensive linemen Ephraim Salaam, former NBA great Gary Payton and former U.S. Open tennis champion and Brooklyn Decker’s husband, Andy Roddick. After the highlights are read, the panel will debate them and give their opinions on the sports news of the day. This analysis will not be specific to the analysts’ former sport like on ESPN. There will be no Kurt Rambis explaining basketball. There won’t be any of ESPN’s 87 NFL analysts describing Tim Tebow’s activities that day. It’ll be Andy Roddick with hot sports takes on football, and Donovan McNabb and Gary Payton presumably forgetting how soccer works and just yelling, “WHY CAN’T THEY USE THEIR HANDS?!” a lot.

The panel seems like a total waste of time but people – also known as Fox’s focus groups – apparently want to see that. Fox Sports’ executive vice president Scott Ackerson was very enthusiastic about his panel during a conference call with the media today.

“We are so excited to welcome Gary, Donovan and Ephraim to FOX Sports and we’re thrilled to have Charissa back in the family,” said Ackerson. “The group officially unveiled today, with Andy, represents some of the best in their fields, and we are confident that they’ll provide a fresh, unique perspective to the sports news of the day, creating engaging and entertaining television.”

Fox executives and producers have put a heavy emphasis on mandatory fun. They say that SportsCenter is too geeky and stat-heavy and Fox Sports Live will be an informative laugh riot. While this nightly show wants to be a place to have a beer and catch up on the sports day, journalism and news-gathering will still be stressed. Fox already has some great reporters and insiders like Ken Rosenthal and Jay Glazer, to name two, so they would be remiss not to utilize the talent they already have.

But the true secret to the show’s potential success is the hiring of Canada’s finest sports anchors. The Fox producers discovered the two hidden gems after reading an article in the Wall Street Journal in 2012 that asked, “Why can’t we have Canada’s ‘SportsCentre?’” Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole have been anchoring a sports highlight show together since 2003 and it’s safe to say that they have some chemistry together – a chemistry that this panel may not ever have. They do the same thing that every anchor does: read the highlights, interview the guests, hit the post. But Jay and Dan – as they are affectionately known by their fans – do ridiculous things in between highlights, make themselves laugh and make the overall viewing experience better.

“The biggest comment we get from Americans is, ‘This reminds me of SportsCenter from the 90s,’” Onrait said in the WSJ piece.

For an added bonus, the Canadian twosome have/had one of the finest podcasts going, aptly named, “The Jay and Dan Podcast.” Since the podcast was produced by TSN, they have discontinued it, but have vowed to restart it once settled at Fox Sports. Also, all of Jay and Dan’s best moments are perfectly preserved on YouTube.

ESPN has some fine joke-makers – Scott Van Pelt, Kenny Mayne when he still did SportsCenter, Bucci, Neil Everett, unintentionally laughable Chris Berman – but those anchors lack the freedom and creative weirdness that graces the scripts of Jay and Dan. Plus, Canadians have a long-standing history of coming to America and still being well-liked: Dan Akroyd, Martin Short, Mike Myers, Alan Thicke. There’s no reason for Jay and Dan to be anything but overwhelmingly popular here, unless people can’t find Fox Sports 1 on their television, which is a concern. Middle America, maybe even all of America may find these Rocky-and-Bullwinkle-shaped, talking hairdos a bit odd, but give them a chance and you’ll laugh right along with them.

So, on August 17 at 11 p.m. ET, turn on Fox Sports Live and see what it’s all about. Come for the sports news and highlights, tolerate the panel and stay for the Jay and Dan.

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