Lindsay Czarniak was in an ESPN manager’s office several months ago when she got the news.
“Oh, by the way,” he told her. “You’re going to be doing a commercial in two weeks.”
“A commercial” turned out to be a “This is SportsCenter” commercial, one of the famously absurd television spots for ESPN’s signature news program. That franchise has featured other D.C. sports figures in recent years – Alex Ovechkin, Testudo – and now Czarniak, the former WRC sports anchor, was thrilled to join their ranks.
“Honestly, it’s one of those things where I called my dad” to share the news, she recently told me. “It was awesome. I was pumped. And it was unexpected. That’s them giving you a vote of confidence, which is obviously nice.”
Czarniak was soon told about the ad’s concept – it’s casual Friday at ESPN, you’re making small talk with coworkers Kevin Negandhi and John Buccigross, and then Henrik Lundqvist strolls by in full goalie gear, having not gotten the memo.
And, in a follow-up message, she was informed that she’d need to wear mom jeans on the set.
“I was really excited, like, this is going to be so much fun,” Czarniak recently told me. “Then I showed Melvin, my husband, my phone – annnnnnnd, I’m wearing mom jeans.”
As luck would have it, there were wardrobe rooms outside the set, and Czarniak tried out several options, ultimately settling on something less matronly than expected. The shoot took several hours, with Lundqvist going through take after take in his gear, while the ESPNers made jokes. The crew went through absurd details – putting a family photo, a Lundqvist name plate and a Swedish flag in the goalie’s cubicle, despite ultimately settling on an angle that shielded those trinkets from view.
“It was quite amazing,” Czarniak said. “It had the feel of a Hollywood production, because of how seriously everyone took it.”
And while you might not want to make too much of a silly ad — which went online on Thursday, and will begin running on TV Monday morning — it sort of symbolizes Czarniak’s rise in Bristol. Less than two years after becoming the latest D.C. sports host to depart for ESPN, Czarniak began co-hosting the 6 p.m. weekday SportsCenter slot with John Anderson in December. The Big Lead reported that this was described as “a warranted promotion” for Czarniak, later reporting that she’s “considered ESPN’s biggest rising star by those at the network.”
“It’s a great timeslot to have,” Czarniak told me. “You’re drawing in viewers who have just finished work and who don’t know what went on during the day. And I love working with John. He’s been there a while, he’s extremely smart, he’s witty, and it’s so much fun to work with someone like that.”
Czarniak and the above-mentioned “Melvin” – that would be MSNBC anchor and NBC News correspondent Craig Melvin – live in the Connecticut suburbs, giving them both a commute of about an hour. They frequently return to D.C., and Czarniak still follows her old beats.
“I love talking about D.C. sports on TV, and I’ve been getting much more of a chance to do that because of the recent success,” she said. “There’s still a part of my heart in D.C. But I love what I’m doing now, I don’t want to change what I’m doing now and I may not ever want to change what I’m doing now. I had no idea that I would wind up on the 6 o’clock SportsCenter, and I’ve loved that more than I ever thought I would.”