NFL Live doubles as one of ESPN's most popular and longest-running shows. Starting in 1998, it's been a staple of the network's professional football coverage with an impressive cast of alumni that can be found scattered across the sports media multiverse. Merril Hoge. John Clayton. Wendi Nix. Trey Wingo. The list goes on. Media pundits and former athletes alike have gathered on the set to bring the audience the best NFL coverage ESPN could muster, and many would go on to prolific careers in the field that continue to this day.
On Monday, August 17, Dan Orlovsky and Marcus Spears will be a part of the team to take on the weight of the NFL Live mantle. Last month, ESPN announced a revamped version of the popular studio show that would feature a new central cast. Laura Rutledge is set to host, while Orlovsky and Spears will be joined by Mina Kimes and Keyshawn Johnson as analysts, along with the usual cast of ESPN characters like Ryan Clark and NFL insiders like Adam Schefter.
As two of the central puzzle pieces for a new version of a show with the legacy NFL Live has, Orlovsky and Spears recognize the pressure to keep NFL Live as the go-to football show for ESPN's audience. But they sound ready for the challenge.
On a conference call on Wednesday, Orlovsky and Spears spoke about their excitement for the show and praised the talents of the men and women who will be working alongside them.
"This gives us our own platform, our own opportunity to create and become whatever we want to become," Orlovsky said. "I know I take immense pride in that, that’s how I got into this business, and I think we take immense pride in trying to become the best, most educational, most entertaining pro football show on television. That is the goal."
Spears echoed Orlovsky's sentiment, but was quick to say that they aren't trying to fix NFL Live, because it didn't need fixing. Rather, they're going to bring their own talents to the table and see how they can make it the best show it can be.
"Transparency is the most important thing. Authenticity is the most important thing and having fun. We like to enjoy what we’re doing. We like to enjoy our jobs because people obviously don’t want to tune into television to see mad people doing TV with no enthusiasm, no energy as far as where they’re going," Spears said. "One of the points Seth [Markman] made was something that’s poignant, and I think we need to say it: there’s been so many people who have done important work on NFL Live. Since its inception in 1998. The names and the lists go on with some greats in this business. NFL Live was not broken. This is not a revamp because things weren’t going well."
The two are obviously high on how the relationship between the different personalities on the show can mesh, and that becomes even more clear when they began speaking on those personalities.
"I have really over the last year gained appreciation for Mina Kimes," Orlovsky said. "Working with Mina a little bit, but I’m in a group chat with Mina, and hearing her talk football, I’ve messaged her many times, you know more about football than the person talking about it who played it. So the opportunity to work with her and collaborate with her, I’m super fired up for."
Spears added, "I’m not sure I met a more impressive female No. 1 from a mindset standpoint. She was summa cum laude at Yale. It’s easier to get drafted into the NFL than it is to be summa cum laude at Yale. And then her football acumen, it does not need to be asked about, it’s one of those things where people have a natural knack for what they do, and that’s how I would describe Mina. She’s built and born to be doing what she’s going to be doing, and that’s breaking down NFL football in a way that people are going to enjoy. "
Spears has a lot of experience working with Rutledge and Johnson, respectively; he played with Johnson in Dallas and appeared frequently on the SEC Network with Rutledge as the host. Of Johnson, Spears said he, "Embodied the ability to have freedom in analyzing football and what you say," and revealed he pushed for Rutledge to host this iteration of NFL Live. He said he's never seen her in a role she can't master and excel in. It's clear both he and Orlovsky believe in this group to create great television.
The goal? To keep people entertained and educated for all 40 minutes of airtime every week. Orlovsky and Spears know it'll be a lot of hard work, but are confident they can meet the lofty expectations that the show has and that they've set for themselves.
"You’re going to see intensity, you’re going to see passion, you’re going to see authenticity," Orlovsky said. "Our focal point, our mindset is that we start from the bottom now. All of us have done some things, whatever you want to quantify them as, [but] we start from the bottom now. The goal is to be on an absolute rocket ship to the top, and we’ll do it one day at a time."
Said Spears, "At all costs, we want to be the best sports show on television. Not the best football show, not the best NFL show, we want to be the best sports show on television."
Just like a football team heading into Sunday, the new NFL Live crew has its gameplan. Now it has to go out and execute. Orlovsky and Spears, at least, believe they can do just that.