The sly satirists at The Onion have found big laughs in ESPN's Big Show
After some 31,000 shows over 30-plus years it might seem that ESPN's SportsCenter has not only transformed the world of sports news but in the process exhausted any potential for satire through its own relentless self-reflection. But the writers of The Onion Sports Network's SportsDome, which debuted last week on Comedy Central, are clearly determined to take the game to a whole new level—and to stand out amid the increasing din of sports media. The show, a 30-minute SportsCenter send-up that airs Tuesdays at 10:30 p.m. ET, is to ESPN what The Colbert Report is to Fox News. As SportsDome embarks on this bold new venture, SI caught up with anchors Mark Shepard (actor Matt Oberg, far right) and Alex Reiser (Matt Walton).
Viewers so rarely get to see the personal side of broadcasters; maybe start with a word about yourselves?
SHEPARD: I am compassionate, difficult, curious, open-minded, multifaceted and full of love.
REISER: My name is Alex Reiser, and I work for the SportsDome.
How did you two get into this business? Was it something you always wanted to do?
SHEPARD: Oh, yeah. It's all I've ever wanted. I could never play sports as a kid because I was allergic to just about every material, natural or synthetic, so I'd sit in my room watching the other kids, and I'd make up my own play-by-play in a language that I invented. It was good practice.
REISER: I've always liked hanging out with athletes and yelling, "Boom!" So this was a natural fit.
Now that you're in the business, do you two share a SportsDome manifesto?
REISER: Being a SportsDome anchor means reporting on all the bad parts of sports and being as tough and truthful as we can be, without athletes getting mad at us or not inviting us to their exclusive parties.
SHEPARD: Our job when it comes to these complicated issues is to take them, examine them in all their complex and difficult detail, cut away the fat and make them as black-and-white as possible, so fans know who to hate and who to blame.
What do you see as the role of the sports media in the bigger picture?
SHEPARD: Sports are inherently dramatic and exciting, so it would be easy for us to just get out of the way and let the games tell the story, but we know that's not what people want. They watch sports on TV because they like hearing people like us do our catchphrases and name-drop bands that we like.
REISER: Yeah, but we totally respect what you do at Sports Illustrated, using full sentences and stuff. It's hard enough to make Jay Cutler seem interesting using flashy graphics and music. So, you know, kudos.
In this landscape, how does SportsDome stand out from other sports news sources?
REISER: Look, if you just want scores, check the Internet. Or have your interns check it and read it out loud to you; that's what I do. But if you want the nitty-gritty—like how the cost of an ad during the Pro Bowl has reached a record $700, or how NHL commissioner Gary Bettman faked his own kidnapping to draw attention to his strange ice sport—then you've got to come to the Dome.
SHEPARD: We also cover the sports nobody else does, like the National Crystal Meth Hallucination League. If there's a meth head out there fighting an army of invisible snakes or trying to outrun a 20-foot demon with the face of his mother, we will bring you the highlights.
And ESPN? Do you see them as competition?
SHEPARD: I see them less as competition and more like a tribute band. They do a pretty good imitation of the Dome, but they don't nail the deets. For example, the staircase on their set maxes out at 18 steps. Ours has 25. And they only have two miniature fields—football and baseball. We've got 30, not counting the mini velodrome we're building in case indoor cycling makes a comeback.
Alex, you're billed as having recently returned from suspension for unspecified infractions. Care to comment on that?
REISER: I can't talk about it except to say nothing was ever proven in a court of law and that I'm very sorry for what may or may not have happened. I'm not a perfect person and never will be. All I can hope is that I can stop doing the things that make them suspend me, or that they stop suspending me for things I'm going to do anyway.
O.K., then what's the best part of this gig?
REISER: We get a ton of free OSN merchandise, and security is pretty lax so you can take home just about anything. My living room table is the old desk from our NASCAR show.
SHEPARD: The show also keeps you sharp. It's really competitive here. There are a dozen guys waiting for you to slip up so they can take your seat at the desk. And we all look pretty much the same, so it's hard to keep track of who your enemies are.
Do you have any parting advice for anyone aspiring to follow in your broadcasting footsteps as one of those interchangeable parts?
SHEPARD: Follow your passions. Also, check my blog for my NFL playoff picks and for tour dates for my synth-punk band, Deadly Chemistry. Southern Ohio tour coming up; show us some love, Dayton!
Follow Shepard and Reiser on Twitter at @MarkShepardSD and @TheAlexReiser and on their blogs at OnionSportsNetwork.com.
We could just get out of the way and LET THE GAMES TELL THE STORY, but we know that's not what people want.
ILLUSTRATION BY DARROW