Steve Smith was filling the “Good Morning Football” studio with laughter. Kay Adams, Peter Schrager, Nate Burleson, and a cameraman were laughing over Smith’s rant about a Lazy Susan. I was just entering the studio, so I couldn’t hear exactly what he was saying. But apparently, it was worth an extended belly laugh.
I thought to myself, Are they rolling right now?
They weren’t. The NFL Network talkshow was on break. But on set, they never seemed to act like it. Of course, there were moments during break when the hosts attended to their phone, probably checking Twitter or, in Schrager’s case, reading texts from general managers and players around the league. Makeup artists appeared. The producers and stage hands made their necessary adjustments. Show-runner Logan Swaim, who Kyle Brandt said is a combination of former SNL comedian Robert Smigel and Rams coach Sean McVay, chatted with his talent.
For the most part, however, the cameras stopped rolling but the show did not. Thursday’s show featured Smith, a fill-in for Brandt, who was working play-by-play for a Chicago Bears preseason game. Brandt is the show’s energizer bunny, a relentless force of positivity. Smith, a guest on the show and a retired 16-year NFL receiver, brought that x-factor.
The hosts seemed particularly giddy. The preseason would be over in 24 hours. Real NFL football was nearly here. They were pumped.
Based in Times Square in New York City, the set is in the middle of a retail space at the NFL Experience, which means they have to set it up and take it down. It also means there’s so much room for activities (see: Smith jumping out of his chair). The show explores every angle of football coverage — on and off the field. They debate over the draft, the regular season and the Super Bowl. They break down film. They buzz over the latest trash talk between players. And they interview current players, former players, rappers, comedians, insiders, analytics gurus and reporters.
“If you’re listening to us, we’re going to make you laugh,” Burleson said. “And if you’re watching us from a distance on mute, you’re going to want to know what we’re talking about. It’s like going to a restaurant with that one booth that is having a great time. They’re not obnoxious. They’re not bothering you. But you keep peaking over and you find yourself, by the end of your meal, trying to listen to the next joke that’s coming up.”
Thursday’s episode probably needed little preparation. Their pre-production meeting is sometimes just 15 minutes long.
“They’re brief. They’re Spartan and I think they’re really one of our secret weapons,” Brandt said.
The decision to go with limited group preparation comes down to a number of factors. Most of all, the producers like the talent to save the arguments for the air. That keeps the conversation fresh and genuine, because it will be the first time they’ve had the discussion. The risk is that they may all agree on topics, which happened a few times on Thursday. Still, they prepare with the intent of stumping their co-hosts, and the entire production team is doing intense independent preparation before and after the meeting. Adams has noticed that preparation is fiercely competitive between the hosts.
“There’s this strange competition that goes on at the table, where we don’t want to reveal to each other what we’ve got,” she said. “We want to perform for each other. Sometimes, it’s less about the audience, and it’s like, ‘Oh, I’ve got something for you next.’ And Nate’s really quiet taking notes. Then I’m like, ‘Oh snap, we’ve got a crazy segment coming up next.’ … I think that keeps us on our toes, and it really is live as it happens.”
The improvisation begins. Maybe it never stops. It’s sports analysis that often includes a comedic twist. Schrager thinks of each show like HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Brandt thinks of the show as “Seinfeld.” They get a topic. (For example, would you rather: Aaron Rodgers and three unknown first-year wide receivers or an unknown first-year quarterback with Julio Jones, Odell Beckham and Antonio Brown?) And… go.
Generally, those topics come organically. Schrager thought of the quarterback vs. receivers topic during a commercial break on Thursday, and began razzing Burleson over it. Schrager said they’d probably use it in a later show.
Some topics miss, and the segment falls flat. Some topics go off the rails. They thrive off that chaos. A simple Skype call from Brandt on Thursday turned into Smith ripping into Brandt’s hotel room. Smith was laughing so hard that he started crying, and had to take himself off the set along with Burleson and Schrager.
Meanwhile, Adams held it down. She was the only one left on set to finish the segment and sent them off to commercial. Most often, she’s Diana Taurasi, the point guard. She weighs in on discussions as often as she facilitates them — often doing both at once. Smith said “she’s just setting up dunks.” She also dunks herself. On Thursday, he showed off one of her other hats: teacher.
“I embrace that. I enjoy that role,” Adams said. She’s got to keep her classroom in line every once in a while.
That said, Adams isn’t rigid. She pointed to a moment when she fell mid-segment. She didn’t bother with a graceful recovery — there was no coming back from that. Instead, she enjoyed the ridiculousness by laughing at herself on-air.
“We embrace the realness of every moment. That’s like anything you want to see now. You want to see the behind-the-scenes action. You want to strip it down. And that’s what it looks like: our show,” she said.
It’s not all bloopers and comedy standup, of course. To the contrary, this is a football show for diehard football fans. Burleson, for example, worked to debunk the idea that running backs are no longer important in the NFL in a segment about Giants rookie Saquon Barkley on Thursday.
Continue to the next page for the rest of the story on GMFB.