Upon further review, Dan Patrick does it his way
Reporting from Milford, Conn. —
There are generally two types of sports talk shows: loud and louder.
And then there’s Dan Patrick. The former ESPN anchor who along with Keith Olbermann helped establish the cable channel in the cultural zeitgeist through their dry wit and repartee, has carved out a second act as host of a sports talk show that relies more on brains than brass.
Broadcasting on radio and simulcast on television for three hours every weekday morning from a converted apartment here known as the “man cave” Patrick — backed by his four sidekicks, “The Danettes” — has created a hit that has become an important stop not only for athletes but actors, musicians and the occasional super model. “The Dan Patrick Show” (heard and seen here on KLAC-AM, Fox Sports West or DirecTV’s Audience Network channel) has a radio and TV audience of more than 2 million a week and north of 2.5 million when his online following is factored in.
Patrick’s program, known to fans as the “DP Show,” is not a testosterone-fueled, bombastic jock fest. There are conversations, not rants. Callers actually have something to say, rather than insults to bark out. Yes, it’s a sports show, and yes, beautiful girls are occasionally ogled. But it’s a sport show your girlfriend can enjoy.
The cool-headed Patrick, who left ESPN in 2007 after clashing with management, has a wry way and often takes a contrarian view. While most sports talk shows spent last week bashing LeBron James and the Miami Heat for their stunning loss to the Dallas Mavericks, Patrick countered that “eventually we will be sympathetic” toward James, much the way tennis fans embraced the bratty Jimmy Connors in his later years.
He also is willing to take on authority figures and sports icons. He had a debate recently with NBA Commissioner David Stern about high school players turning pro in which Stern cracked that he hangs on Patrick’s “every word like the tablets handed down on Mt. Sinai.”
A few weeks later, after another one of his former teammates said Lance Armstrong used performance enhancing drugs and the cyclist issued his standard denial, Patrick said, “It’s a dirty sport, and I’m supposed to believe he’s the only guy that never cheated.”
Patrick has Hollywood’s ear too. Last year after he criticized HBO’s “Entourage,” creator Doug Ellincalled in from France to defend the show. More recently he passed on golf tips to Justin Timberlake, and, of course, there was his supporting role in the Charlie Sheen versus the world drama when the TV star used Patrick’s show to vociferously air his grievances with everyone involved with his CBS sitcom “Two and a Half Men.”
Patrick’s low-key approach differentiates him from other radio shows such as “The Jim Rome Show, “The Loose Cannons” (Pat O’Brien, Steve Hartman and Vic “The Brick” Jacobs), “Petros and Money” (Petros Papadakis and Matt “Money” Smith) and “Mike and Mike in the Morning” (Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic).
“He doesn’t talk like a sports talk guy,” said Steve Koonin, the president of Turner Entertainment Networks and a huge consumer of sports radio. Patrick has an “intellectual irreverence” missing from most talk jocks who lean toward a “screaming” and “ranting” approach; “Patrick connects information rather than opinion,” Koonin observed.
“I don’t need to yell at you to make a point,” Patrick said between bites of a salad at the Seven Seas Restaurant, which serves as the de facto watering hole for his staff. “I would hope the point makes the point, not me and how I deliver it.”
It’s not uncommon for discussions to veer from sports and into questions of social etiquette such as where to place one’s hands when hugging someone else’s girlfriend or how to walk the red carpet at a big event. Patrick, 55, often plays the father figure to his much younger staff.
While most sports shows blast heavy metal at listeners going in and out of commercial breaks — known in the industry as bumper music — to match the volume of their over-the-top hosts, listeners of the “DP Show” get an eclectic mix that can include Louie Armstrong or the New York punk band Television. If a Rush or AC/DC song is played, it is with the appropriate amount of irony attached.
“I don’t like it to be labeled a sports show,” Patrick said. “We’ve created almost a ‘Truman Show,’ where you’re looking into this little world we’ve created, and we let you look in, warts and all.”
Patrick has differentiated his show by sharing the limelight. Borrowing a page from Howard Stern, Patrick made his team into an instrumental part of the show. The Danettes — executive producers Paul Pabst and Todd Fritz, operations director Patrick “Seton” O’Connor and blogger Andrew Perloff — are not just the behind-the-scenes crew. They are costars who banter one another and Patrick between guests.
Pabst, Fritz and O’Connor were ESPN refugees whom Patrick brought with him when he started the radio show in 2007. Perloff, nicknamed “McLovin” because his nasal twang is reminiscent of the character in the teen comedy “Super Bad,” is a Sports Illustrated writer and often the whipping boy for Patrick and the rest of the gang in part because of his Ivy League degree and tendency to act like a know-it-all. “McLovin showed up one day and then never left,” Patrick cracked.
Patrick, who has a side career appearing in Adam Sandler movies, including this year’s “Just Go With It,” is even willing to share that stage with the Danettes. But he admits to an ulterior motive. “If you’re an extra, you’re treated subservient. They need to be humbled.”
When Patrick first pitched the idea of sharing his first post-ESPN platform with this rag-tag bunch, the response was less than enthusiastic. The attitude from his then bosses was that they weren’t professionals and nobody would want to hear from them. But Patrick was adamant. “I had been on a show where I had been the sole voice, and I just realized I wanted this to be a show I wanted to listen to, I wanted to have my friends on,” he said.
That none of them is radio savvy is part of the charm. Awkwardly good is how Patrick described them. “Fritzy coughs on the air at times, McLovin forgets his microphone is on, Seton will act like he’s ready to say something and he’s not.... it’s an honest show, it’s not manipulated.”
Getting the show launched was no small task. Patrick went door to door to radio stations pitching himself. “When you don’t have those E-S-P-N letters behind you, it can be humbling.”
Initially, the “DP Show” was broadcast from the cramped attic of Patrick’s Milford house. It was not uncommon for the family cat to run around the homemade studio. Eventually his fans found him, and, after less than two years on the air, satellite broadcaster DirecTV decided it wanted to get into the radio business and bought a majority stake in Patrick’s show.
Patrick soon asked DirecTV if it might be interested in turning his radio show into television. “I was a little freaked out,” DirecTV Senior Vice President Chris Long said when he went to visit Patrick and climbed three flights of stairs and saw a bunch of guys “strangled up with wires everywhere.”
Despite the less-than-ideal setup, Long could see that there was a dynamic between Patrick and the Danettes that was unlike the usual jock talk. “We got something here.... It was almost a docudrama.” His first thought: “We’ll need a bigger space.”
DirecTV got the DIY Network, a cable channel about home improvement, to build a set that would make any jock envious. Besides rare sports memorabilia, including an Indianapolis Colts jersey with Ryan Leaf’s name on it (Leaf was a first-round draft pick of the San Diego Chargers), the man cave is equipped with a basketball hoop, golf simulator, foosball table and a pinball machine. During commercial breaks, shooting contests are held (Patrick played some high school and college basketball). Also, when a Danette messes up or loses a bet (usually it’s McLovin) the others hurl dodge balls at the victim.
“That man cave makes him the envy of everyone else in the industry,” said NFL Network anchor and frequent guest Rich Eisen, who used to work with Patrick at ESPN, which is referred to derisively as “the mother ship” on the show.
Patrick’s ESPN days are often a topic of discussion on the show. After bouncing around radio and a brief stint at CNN, he joined ESPN in 1989 and with Olbermann hosted “SportsCenter.” The two coined “The Big Show,” a name that stuck despite management’s objections.
With four children at home, Patrick wanted to scale back his workload, which didn’t sit too well with his bosses. When he was given a take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum, he left. “I had this weight lifted off of me,” he said, reflecting on the day he told his wife he was coming home for good.
There are still hard feelings between ESPN and Patrick. ESPN doesn’t let its talent go on his show, and he tweaks them for it and other things whenever possible. “It drives me every day,” Patrick said of the grudge. “I don’t know if I’d want them to be too nice to me.”
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