With reality shows the flavor of last year, it's late-night variety acts that have programmers buzzing. ABC is reeling from its failed play for David Letterman; Fox attempted to lure Conan O'Brien to its air. CBS, of course, still has Letterman, and NBC counts three shows. On cable, E! and Comedy Central (which already enjoys The Daily Show) are taking second helpings off NBC's plate.
Now ESPN is adding sports variety show Mohr Sports
to its growing portfolio of original non-event programming.
Its late-night twist bows Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET hosted by actor/comedian Jay Mohr, who starred on Fox's brief but controversial Action
two seasons ago. ESPN execs say he's a perfect choice for them: an experienced performer with a heavy dose of sports on his résumé. Late-night vet Robert Morton, who produced Late Show With David Letterman
at both NBC and CBS,
is serving as executive producer.
Mohr, well-known for a two-year stint on Saturday Night Live
and his supporting role as agent Bob Sugar in Jerry Maguire, was a regular on Fox's popular NFL This Morning
and filled in for acerbic Jim Rome on his syndicated radio show from time to time.
Mohr himself bills his weekly show as a cross between SportsCenter
and The Chris Rock Show. He plans to open with a sports-themed monologue and, often enough, venture out for man-on-the-street skits. Like a network late-night show, he'll interview celebrity guests—from Tiger Woods to Christopher Walken—and feature musical guests.
So what is a show like that doing on stats-and-scores–heavy ESPN? "The format is very much late-night, but the content will be hard-core sports," answers ESPN Entertainment Senior Coordinating Producer Mike Antinoro.
Original shows like Mohr Sports, ESPN brass hopes, will bring in casual sports fans and more women. They also help fill out the schedule between sports seasons to insulate the net from sharp ratings dips. "We started with events and news, and that's sustained us for 20 years," ESPN President George Bodenheimer said last month. "This is an opportunity to expand what fans look to ESPN for."
But viewers may have trouble finding it. After its April 2 debut (the lead-in is a repeat of ESPN's original movie Season on the Brink), Mohr Sports
will move to Tuesday at 12:30 a.m. (Monday at 9:30 p.m. on the West Coast.)
Because of commitments to televise sporting events, ESPN will change its slot again June 25 to Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET. Mohr finishes his 25-episode run in that slot Sept. 24.