Fox Sports Live co-anchors Jay Onrait and Dan O'Toole, who took turns this past week blasting their own network on TV, social media and on the radio, will return to FS1’s airwaves on February 22nd to debut a new version of the show, sources tell The Big Lead.
Onrait and O’Toole, who arrived from Canada in 2013 for the birth of the new network, starred on the ratings-challenged Fox Sports Live for two years before the show faced dramatic alterations. Initially hatched as a show to rival ESPN’s Sportscenter, the matchup never materialized. The advent of social media and having highlights at your fingertips 24-7, and specialized programming for fans of single sports, have sent the traditional sports highlights show into increasing obsolescence, which is what former ESPN host Keith Olbermann said this week. Olbermann and Dan Patrick made the highlights show cool in the 90s, but in recent years, TV ratings for SportsCenter have been eroding.
ESPN’s flagship program is also in the midst of iterating. Out with highlights, in with strong opinions. ESPN is pushing Stephen A. Smith more and more on SportsCenter (and on its most popular radio show, Mike & Mike, which has also seen ratings sag for years [UPDATE: an ESPN spokesperson writes in to say that radio ratings have been up and down, and are about where they were five years ago, and TV viewership and podcast listenership for Mike & Mike are up; it is worth noting that they have also mixed up the show to incorporate more outside opinion]); Jay and Dan will be emphasizing more opinion and personality because everybody already knows what happened in the games.
Jay and Dan did not merely leave breadcrumbs about their dissatisfaction with the direction of the network and their own careers, they dropped loaves. Given that this time off was not scheduled prior to a meeting between the pair and FS1 president Jamie Horowitz on Monday, some eyebrows were raised around the network. The Big Lead initially heard that they were off the air due to a suspension; a Fox Sports spokesman says that this is “totally inaccurate.”
Perhaps a “cooling off period” might be the best label, given that the time off is paid and with the intent of enabling Jay and Dan to recharge their creative juices in the Fox offices before rebooting the show?
Their low morale was more or less understandable given that their show’s staff was gutted, they were relocated from a large set to one resembling a closet, and they were seemingly the only Fox Sports personalities not camped out at the Super Bowl last week. However, the magnitude of their criticism was quite large.
Last week, Onrait did a bit where he read aloud from a Deadspin story that hatcheted FS1, and then wryly said, “This Deadspin article is a bunch of crap. Why would they write this somewhat factually correct but mean-spirited stuff?” On an appearance on the Dan Patrick Show Monday, Onrait joked that his and O’Toole’s careers were in the toilet, before saying, again, with a twinkle in his eye but also a large element of truth, “I don’t know what’s happening with our network right now. But I’ll say this. We’re gonna stick it out until this contract is over. We’re gonna collect our money.”
In a series of tweets on Sunday, O’Toole lashed out against many facets of the network:
Again, Jay and Dan’s evident frustration is understandable. Though their show has received fledgling ratings, they’re widely considered to be doing good work, and it’s obvious to all observers that they’re receiving less promotion than some of the more conspicuous personalities at their network.
(They’re also not the only ones who have been critical; Katie Nolan, who undeniably has a vast digital presence, but whose television ratings can sometimes escape mentioning while others’ are pilloried, spoke out against Gronk’s “titty-fucking” of friend and colleague Julie Stewart-Binks in GQ.)
It remains to be seen whether Jay and Dan’s next iteration will catch on better than Fox Sports Live did, but it will be more personality-driven, which is the direction that sports television is and has been increasingly headed.