From Podcast To Broadcast: 'Men In Blazers' Gets The ESPN Bump
ARUN RATH, HOST:
Football is doing better and better. By football, of course I mean soccer. As the NFL seems to lurch from scandal to scandal, 2014 has been the highest-rated year ever for soccer broadcasts in the U.S. Two guys in particular couldn't be happier - Michael Davies and Roger Bennett, aka the Men In Blazers. Just months ago, you could only find their show, Men In Blazers, as a podcast on ESPN's website Grantland. But their irresistible, manic humor quickly caught on. And ESPN sent them to the 2014 World Cup - well, to Brazil at least. The sports network put them in a small TV booth, wound them up and let them go.
(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "MEN IN BLAZERS")
MICHAEL DAVIES: Today, everybody we work with pretty much has gone off to the football.
ROGER BENNETT: Yep.
DAVIES: But not us.
BENNETT: Not us.
DAVIES: I mean, why would you come all the way to Brazil -
DAVIES: - To watch football, to go to the actual games, when you can sit in a closet and talk about football, which you haven't been to?
RATH: From there, Men In Blazers took off. Their podcast shot to the top of the iTunes charts. The New York Times profiled them. And starting this week, you'll be able to watch a full half-hour of the men in blazers every Monday night on NBC Sports. I caught up with Rog and Dave-O and asked them to start by describing their show for people who haven't seen it.
DAVIES: Very good-looking men.
BENNETT: We're like Kathy Lee and Hodor.
DAVIES: Hodor, yeah, that would be - Kathy Lee and Hodor would be a much more interesting show.
BENNETT: Like "True Detective" but a little bit darker.
RATH: OK. (Laughing).
DAVIES: No, we regard as like - the podcast is one thing. On TV, we regard that the television program we're about to make - we think we're about to make the least technologically advanced television program in the entire history of the medium.
BENNETT: We actually thought when they said would you like to make a show about football on Monday night, we thought they were hiring us to do "Monday Night Football."
DAVIES: And we jumped at the chance.
RATH: You mentioned that you're very low-tech and one of the things about the show that's really kind of signature, aside from the banter that you guys have, is you have a very unique visual style in how you illustrate the things you're talking about.
DAVIES: Well, one camera.
BENNETT: And two bald men.
DAVIES: And lots of facial expressions. I mean, a formative experience in both of our lives as immigrants to the New World in the early 17th century was seeing "The George Michael Sports Machine " - what we regard as the greatest television program ever made in American sports television.
RATH: Yeah, I grew up in D.C. I loved the Sports Machine.
DAVIES: We came from a country that never had sports highlights. Occasionally, at the end of the news, they might give you the score of a game that happened earlier. But we never had highlights.
And to have a whole show hosted by this amazing man - a God to us, George Michael - where he just had a machine that would take you around the world to see the greatest sports highlights and bloopers.
RATH: It was like a 1950s, like, UNIVAC-style computer.
DAVIES: Well, we have now - and so we have a 2014 style one of those - a little switcher that sits in front of me. And I'm going to play clips from our machine as a tribute to George Michael and his better machine.
BENNETT: And when we signed for NBC, we asked them to try and dig deep into their kind of basement and find any fragments of "The George Michael Sports Machine" which are left behind. And they shipped up, this week, the sign from "The George Michael Sports Machine." And to have that hanging in our vicinity, he's definitely our inspiration.
RATH: You two have been together on your podcast for a few years now. How did the two of you meet, Rog?
BENNETT: We were both invited to a wedding of a mutual friend. And that wedding had the incredibly terrible taste to be scheduled for the World Cup final. And the 2006 World Cup final was the one that you may remember where Zidane, the great bald man, head-butted a crafty Italian and got sent off. The game went into extra time.
And I was tying my tuxedo in front of the extra time when my wife turned around to me. And she said we've got to leave now. The wedding is on a boat. It leaves - it waits for no man.
So I had to leave the World Cup final. I went to this wedding. I will be honest, my behavior was rather that of a petulant teen. And there was another petulant teen at the back of the wedding who was also there.
DAVIES: That was me. So we met each other briefly there, but really we were brought together for the 2010 World Cup. And we'd both been working for ESPN for awhile writing. And they brought us together and let us blog together - gave us a podcast together. And so we started that four years ago.
RATH: Rog, I want to do a hard-edge reporter thing here. I'm going to play some words that you said back to you. This is what you said back in June during the World Cup.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
BENNETT: If the USA get out of this group G -
BENNETT: - G for go, go USA. G for glory -
BENNETT: - G for God Bless America -
BENNETT: - I'm going to become a citizen of the United States of America.
I hope it's a super ceremony. I'd love for George Michael himself to be exhumed and swear me in is how I imagine it. I'll be honest, I'm not the greatest at bureaucracy. I have just completed the application form to become an American citizen -
RATH: All right.
BENNETT: - If this great country of ours will have me. I was fascinated by the number of questions you try and catch out those who are applying. Have you ever committed genocide? Have you ever run a brothel? Were you a member of the Nazi party from 1933 to 1945? These are yes/no questions that I had to really think through.
BENNETT: And I've now got past that stage. The papers are finished. I can tell you, there's not a single day I don't wake up and thank God that I live in this country. It's amazing. I think it's something that both Michael and I also share as well as our love of football. We both love America.
RATH: That's Michael Davies and Roger Bennett. Their podcast Men In Blazers will, on Monday, premiere as "The Men In Blazers" show on NBC Sports. They'll be picking up a mantle from the great George Michael. Gentlemen, thank you so much.
BENNETT: Thank you so much for having us on.
DAVIES: Thanks, Arun.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE GEORGE MICHAEL SPORTS MACHINE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.