Thursday night’s “Mike and the Mad Dog” 30 for 30 was met with great interest in the New York market and extreme ambivalence in other parts of the country. The 60-minute documentary earned a 2.51 rating in the WFAN-friendly boroughs and a .45 everywhere else, for an average of 657,000 viewers nationally.
This is precisely what most thought would happen. If one takes the 30,000-foot view, choosing a topic with limited national appeal did not result in a ratings smash. But there’s more to it than that. While ESPN is in the bottom-line industry and traffics in eyeballs, there’s value in the occasional niche program, especially if that niche’s epicenter is the biggest market.
It’s also not totally fair to hold the look at Mike Francesa and Chris Russo to a different standard than others in the series’ history. It is not as if Terry Fox, Fernando Valenzuela or the 1999 Triple Crown were captivating topics from coast-to-coast. If anything, the disparity in interest was a refreshing callback to a time when ESPN’s biggest perceived bias was not political in nature, but region-based.
And finally, there is a certain irony in a piece exploring the two men most responsible for the rise of dueling opinion shows failed to earn uniform interest from across the spectrum. How many people are unaware that build into their local shock jock’s DNA is part of Mike and part of the Mad Dog? How much can FS1, a network seemingly built as an cathedral to man0-a-mano sparring, truly revel in Thursday night’s miss knowing it’s the blueprint of a lion’s share of their programming?
One of the major takeaways I had from the film was how fresh and exciting the duo’s show was at the time. The marketplace was ripe for big opinions and personalities and both of these guys had the gravitas to take over New York and then, overtly or not, influence the industry from sea to shining sea.
While viewers outside of Manhattan may not think they have a vested interest in “Mike and the Mad Dog,” they aren’t seeing the whole picture. Maybe they’ll catch it on a re-air.