ESPN stars eye primetime sitcoms

During ‘Upfront’ next week, television networks unveil their new fall show schedules to advertisers and media.

ESPN will have its share of announcements Tuesday morning, but it’s the CBS slate that ESPN Radio and SportsNation host Colin Cowherd and NFL Live analyst Mark Schlereth are keeping an eye on with great interest.

Both have sitcom projects in the works based on their lives. Scripts have been written and rewritten, and their pilot episodes have been shot.

Now they’re waiting to hear whether their respective shows will get picked up by the network.

Schlereth’s show is called Home Game. Cowherd’s show is still untitled.

Front Row sat down with Cowherd and Schlereth to learn more:

FR: How did this all come about?

Cowherd: About two years ago, Eric Tannenbaum, a producer from Two and A Half Men, called my agent and asked to meet with me. He said he listened to my dialogue on a daily basis and thought there might be a sitcom in there about a workaholic kind of guy that has high-energy women in his life. Slowly, over the course of a few years we agreed that maybe there was something and we decided to give it a run.

Schlereth: Last summer I was at the ESPYs with my wife and daughters. I bumped into a couple of buddies, whom I met there two years earlier — Peter Sussman and Steve Levinson, who’s a producer and manager for Mark Wahlberg. Steve and Mark are partners in Leverage Productions and they produce Entourage. I was talking to them when this stream of NFL players walked by. The players said hi to me and before I could even respond to them they started chatting up my daughters. Peter and Steve gave me all kinds of grief and told me, ‘this would make a great sitcom.’ We got a good chuckle about that and Peter said he would call me the following week to set up a meeting with some writers. I didn’t expect anything, but he called and we started hashing out the premise of the show. Before we knew it, the pilot was born.

FR: Is this something you always wanted to do?

Cowherd: There were two things I wanted to do when I got into this business. I wanted to be a syndicated radio host and I wanted to write a movie, and this is pretty much it. I just enjoy doing really interesting, fun, smart things and being part of the creative process.

Schlereth: Years ago I sold a reality show to Lifetime about our family. The impetus for that was the Meet the Schlereths series on ESPN.com when I traveled with my wife and daughters to see my son play his college baseball games. We made a pilot, but Lifetime didn’t pick it up. At the time it was disappointing, but it truly was a blessing. We just realized that it was a lot more work and a lot more staged than we liked. Then this opportunity came along.

FR: Who are some of the established Hollywood people you are working with?

Cowherd: I learned very early in the process, it’s a star vehicle, and we have a great cast. Damon Wayans is the main character. His name on the show is Nick Herd. We also have two talented actresses, Eliza Dushku and Aisha Tyler, who plays my ex-wife. These are people who have formidable careers. It’s also produced by the guy that did Two and A Half Men.

Schlereth: The cast is terrific with Rob Riggle, as lead character Joe Allen, and Constance Zimmer, who is on Entourage and plays my wife. Rob is a comedy star and I think there are high aspirations for him to have a show. Mark Wahlberg is also on our team. He’s a producer, and everything he’s touched recently has been pretty successful. And, for what it’s worth, our pilot was shot in Paramount Studio No. 25, where they did Cheers, Mork & Mindy, and I think Lucille Ball.”

FR: What show would you compare to yours?

Cowherd: News Radio and a little Home Improvement with Tim Allen, where you see some of that home strife. The great thing about News Radio is you never heard the radio. It was all about relationships. Our show is not about a radio show. It’s about a guy who does radio, but I might as well be a mayor. It’s a public job where my character’s got some power, and he has none of it at home, and kind of the issues surrounding that with my wife and me in the middle. It’s funny. It’s spicy. It’s real.

Schlereth: It’s in the vein of the classic family comedies like Family Ties or The Cosby Show. Ours is a feel-good family story and hopefully it resonates with viewers. It’s based loosely on my life. The basic premise is about when I retired from the NFL. I thought I would take two years to just figure out the next phase. After two weeks of sitting home on the couch, my wife essentially said, ‘you better end up finding something to do with your life because you’re driving me crazy.’ Here, Rob’s character has just retired from football and he’s trying to figure out that next phase of his life. At the same time, he’s trying to find his place within his own family. The football player angle is just a backdrop. It’s really a much bigger story.

FR: What did you learn from this experience and what are the chances the show will get picked up?

Cowherd: It’s a fascinating process. Anytime you can step out of a comfort level it’s intimidating but there’s an opportunity for growth. So, I look at this project like I’m a better sportscaster by going through this. We will probably find out this week. We’re competing with nine shows for two slots. I just got a copy of my show and I really like it. It’s as good as I could have done — better than I could have hoped for. It’s like playing the best round of golf in your life. Even if you don’t win, you’re like, ‘I gave it everything.’ I’ve gotten so much farther than 90 percent of the people in this business. If it doesn’t get approved, it was one of the most interesting experiences of my life. If it does, I’m the luckiest guy in the world.

Schlereth: I’m proud of the show we put out there and the job everybody did. I’m glad I had the opportunity. We had dinner with the whole crew at the commissary one night and one of the coolest things about this, that my wife raised, is that if this gets made, we’re going to indirectly be responsible for about 200 jobs. That was one thing I took out of it most of all. Also, unless you’re willing to put yourself out there, you will never find out what you can accomplish. And I’m not shy about putting myself out there.

Cowherd and Schlereth seem to have started a trend.

It was announced earlier this month that ESPN Radio’s Mike Greenberg will write and produce a pilot for ABC Studios under the HUMANTAS New Voices initiative. The sitcom will be based on his bestselling book Why My Wife Thinks I’m an Idiot and centers on the experiences of a successful sportscaster in both his marriage and his relationship with his radio partner.

Greenberg, on the project: “This is one of the most exciting opportunities I’ve ever been connected with, and I can’t wait for everyone to get a load of the depiction of [Mike] Golic.”

Only time will tell if Golic counters with a script of his own.

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