About a decade ago, before they took over Howard Stern’s morning drive slot on WJFK, the Sports Junkies produced a television pilot for ESPN.
This was the era when ESPN Classic was churning out shows featuring young men making jokes about sports – remember the Sklar Brothers? So the radio hosts from P.G. County met with then-ESPN honcho Mark Shapiro about doing a daily show for the network, getting so far as to discuss relocating to New York or Florida for production purposes.
The entire project, though, fell through in subsequent negotiations. And while the Junkies appeared on a variety of local television shows as their careers continued to ascend – WUSA’s Sports Plus, Comcast SportsNet’s Washington Post Live, Fox 5’s Morning News and so on – they never wound up as TV headliners.
“We just felt like we had unfinished business,” Eric Bickel told me last week. “We’ve been doing radio for almost 17 years now. There’s more you can do. It just seemed almost wasteful for us to do our show, be done at 10, and then not doing anything else the rest of the day.”
And thus comes “Table Manners,” a 30-minute weekly series hosted by the Junkies, which will debut on Comcast SportsNet next month. The network has already begun running promos for the eight-episode series, and will formally announce the program on Monday.
The show will feature the four childhood friends and a “high-profile” guest – from sports, politics or entertainment – sharing conversation over a meal at The Palm. (Despite the “Table Manners” name and a recent published report, the show will not, in fact, be about table etiquette.) It’s scheduled to air Tuesday nights at 11 p.m. in February and March, with multiple encore showings throughout those weeks.
Among the already scheduled guests are Jeremy Roenick, Walt Williams, Steve Largent and Dateline NBC correspondent Chris Hansen. And with high-definition cameras and an outside production company, the show will bear little resemblance to the BCTV Bowie cable-access program that gave the Junkies their start.
“If you’re going to compare it to our cable access days, it’s a gigantic quantum leap times one million,” John “Cakes” Auville said. “That was put together with bubble gum and a wire coat hanger. It’s like going from playing baseball at your neighborhood park to playing at Nats Park, that’s the type of jump it is.”
Which doesn’t mean there aren’t particular challenges in moving from radio to television. There’s the looks thing, for example.
“You know what, that’s where the makeup people are gonna earn their money,” Auville said. “But here’s one thing I always find funny: we’ll goof on ourselves and say we have faces for radio, but if we go to the Super Bowl, I feel like George Clooney surrounded by some of the other guys in radio. I feel great about myself. So I think we will acquit ourselves decently on TV.”
Then there’s the production schedule. To minimize the number of shoots, the plan is to do two segments in a day, which will necessitate ordering two full meals at The Palm, without much of a break in between.
“Me personally, that won’t be an issue,” Bickel joked. “We’ll just take small bites.
“Who knows how this is gonna work out,” he continued. “How can you talk and eat at the same time? We might end up eating nothing. We’ll probably end up drinking a lot more than we eat. That’ll be an interesting element.”
Regardless, the four friends – also including J.P. Flaim and Jason Bishop – are finally headlining a television show, after years of expressing on-air regret about their missed ESPN opportunity.
“TV’s always been something that we’ve enjoyed doing, but that we haven’t really pursued,” Bickel said. “There’s been mutual interest [at CSN] through the years, so we just wanted to come up with a concept that they would like and we would like and have some fun with it.”