- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 7, 2002

From the very beginning of Fox Sports, we knew the network veered far away from usual TV industry convention.
Our first clue came in 1994, early in the network's debut year broadcasting NFL games. Announcers John Madden and Pat Summerall were asked to read on-air promos not for CBS's esteemed "60 Minutes," as they had for years while working for the eye network, but for Fox's offbeat sketch comedy "House of Buggin'."
In following years came the glowing puck, the catcher-cam, manager microphones, high-intensity graphics and statistics, and the massive "Ally McBeal" promos behind home plate during baseball playoffs.
Now industry convention has been floored again at Fox with "The Best Damn Sports Show Period," as Fox Sports Net's runaway cable hit approaches its first anniversary. Weekly national ratings have soared 74 percent since the show moved to a two-hour prime-time format in December, late-night repeats have performed even better and the show has become must-viewing and a key guest slot for scores of pro athletes and celebrities. And "BDSSP" still isn't like anything else on the air.
"BDSSP" uses elements of sports talk radio, a typical barroom sports argument, "The View" and "Saturday Night Live" for a hybrid sports and entertainment show that mixes interviews and discussion with heavy dollops of comic irreverence and sexual innuendo. But even actor Tom Arnold, the centerpiece star and comic foil, struggles to define what "BDSSP" really is.
"I remember when Fox came to me and pitched this. They said it was going to be like 'The View' for guys, a little like 'Politically Incorrect' and 'SNL.' And I'm thinking, 'This is like just about every pitch you hear. It's always compared to something good, something that's popular. And what if what they're talking about really isn't any good,'" Arnold said.
"But I do think we've struck on something. We're just having a lot of fun, and the best part is that all of us on the show [host Chris Rose, ex-jocks D'Marco Farr, John Salley, Michael Irvin and John Kruk] actually like each other. There's a real bond here. We're still goofing on each other during the commercials. How often do you see that?"
The creation of "BDSSP" in a horrific advertising market was a gutsy move, particularly when Fox was in the process of losing nearly $1billion on broadcasting live games. Then Fox doubled down its bet by having the hubris to title the show as it has. Network executives say it was a move carefully designed to reach an underserved market.
"We did a lot of market research and found that nearly two-thirds of sports TV viewers are moderate fans, not the hard-core fans," said Fox Sports Net president Tracy Dolgin. "The hard-core fans, the ones who view sports as something of a religion, are definitely being served. ESPN certainly does it. We tried to do it. But we needed a different strategy. We needed to treat sports more as entertainment, which it is. So we cultivated several shows to do that, 'NFL This Morning,' 'Beyond the Glory.' We still needed a centerpiece, though, and have found it with ['BDSSP]."
Despite the success, the show is not without its critics, foremost targeting the show's gravitation toward sexual suggestion and sponsor tie-ins. On the show, lingerie models make fairly regular appearances, and viewers are deluged with nearly constant commercial product placements for items such as Mike's Hard Lemonade, Dockers, and Outback steak houses .
Dolgin, backed by the surging ratings and sold-out ad inventories, essentially thumbs his nose at the criticism in typical Fox fashion.
"There are still purists out there who want sports to be like it was in the 1950s, which is kind of ironic given how TV sponsorship worked back then. But that's not what this show is about," Dolgin said. "Quite frankly, if we weren't getting those complaints, I'd be worried. We wouldn't be doing our job. We embrace the criticism."
After spending most of the first year retooling the format and cast of "BDSSP," Fox does not intend to sit still. Arnold has just signed a contract extension, and the crew has settled into a defined rhythm. But Dolgin promises more big changes.
"We didn't have a fixed blueprint when we started this show, and we don't have one now, I have to admit," he said. "That's the beauty of it. Every day is a two-hour live experiment. Some things work, others don't. But it continues to evolve. Another indicator that we're not doing our job is if this show looks in two years exactly like it does now. I assure you it won't."

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