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The Success of the ‘Manning-Cast’ Has TV Execs Eyeing Copycat Ideas

Jeff Kotuby

Yesterday’s edition of Monday Night Football was the first this season to not feature the “Manning-Cast,” ESPN’s alternate simulcast of the night’s game starring former NFL QBs Peyton and Eli Manning — and boy, were they missed.

Fans took to social media to air their grievances that the alternate ESPN2 feed was not available, as the Mannings are only signed on for 10 games per season across the next 3 years, meaning some games have to go Manning-less.

The brothers offer a unique, yet incredibly informed and nuanced take on the traditional broadcast, featuring in-depth play breakdowns and special guests, that has been lauded by audiences and critics alike. Suffice to say, people wanted their Mannings last night, especially during an exhilarating contest between two great young quarterbacks in Derek Carr and Justin Herbert:

The widespread success of the “Manning-Cast” apparently has sports execs looking for the next great casual viewing experience, as suggested by Matthew Belloni of Puck News. “The rush is on at the big shops to replicate the “Manningcast” on ESPN,” Belloni writes. “Will Serena and Venus Williams soon be debating tennis during the U.S. Open? How about Boston sports idiots Ben Affleck and Matt Damon simulcasting Red Sox-Yankees games? It’s all on the table, say agency sources.”

Belloni goes on to say, correctly, mind you, that another broadcast like the “Manning-Cast” would require the right talent. The brothers’ shared quirky sense of humor combined with Peyton’s sheer football brilliance and Eli’s willingness to make himself the butt of the joke (evidenced by his viral “Dak dance” and “twin bird salutes” from last week’s game) makes for an engaging, entertaining broadcast. The entertainment value comes down to three main qualities:

  • Natural chemistry with one another
  • Engaging personalities
  • Mastery of the subject matter (which may end up being the most important of the three)

To try and replicate that would require talented individuals with the same level of each of the above qualities as Peyton and Eli both have. Belloni has the right idea with the two examples he gave and would be the right idea when it comes to staffing this project.

The Williams sisters would certainly have the natural chemistry with one another, are engaging enough personalities that would make for an interesting telecast, and certainly have a mastery of tennis. While Affleck and Damon aren’t blood brothers, they’ve been friends for decades and would bring a high level of passion to a “Sawx” broadcast that would be reminiscent of friends watching the game at the bar. Belloni also offers the idea of non-sports “Manning-casts,” such as simulcasting the Oscars on ESPN with Aaron Rodgers and Shailene Woodley, along with some high-profile guests.

Sports broadcasts with personality have been on an uptick in recent years. NBC’s Olympics coverage has benefited from the natural chemistry and friendship of Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski. The NBA on TNT features relentless ribbing among co-hosts Shaquille O’Neal, Kenny Smith, and Charles Barkley. But it’s rare that this personality finds its way into live gameplay, the way the Manning-Cast has offered.

In a world where we can filter news to meet our worldview, is it any wonder fans are searching for a sports broadcast more tailored to their sensibilities?

A big question is whether the Manning-Cast will maintain its popularity or whether it will fade into memory like Dennis Miller in the MNF booth or FOX’s NHL cyber-puck. But in the short term, the experiment has been a breath of fresh air.

ESPN has a hit on their hands with the Manning-Cast and would be wise to try and lock up the brothers for full seasons moving forward. For other networks trying to copy their success, it’s not just about the talent involved, but their ability to work with one another and captivate audiences. If anything, learn from the best for a few more weeks, then try to start your own alternate broadcast.

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