Friday, October 28, 2011

Dan LeBatard Is Highly Entertaining

About six weeks ago, ESPN2 began airing "Dan LeBatard Is Highly Questionable," yet another sports-related gabfest in the mold of the long-running (and Emmy-award winning) "Pardon the Interruption" and the less enjoyable (yet oddly still airing) "Around the Horn."  LeBatard had been a frequent guest host on PTI and his opinions, which veered toward the contrarian, and his attitude which careened toward train wreck TV, seemed tailor-made for a show of his own.  

As it turns out, while some of Dan's opinions might be highly questionable, his show is not.  The producers of "DLHQ" (the show's Twitter handle, plugged at the end of every show) knew what they were doing in pairing Dan with his father, Gonzalo "Papi" LeBatard, a Cuban immigrant and sports fan whose banter with his son comes across as natural and genuine and, as the show (and its stars) has started to find its groove, become an entertaining personality in his own right, discussing everything from his amorous feelings to his discolored toe nails and, to date, spot on game predictions.  Papi's cluelessness about more contemporary pop cultural references and stumbling over tricky sports names (several swings and misses at Ndamukong Suh almost brought a segment to a halt) give the show a comfortable and familiar feeling, like you are discussing sports around the dinner table or while the game is on TV. 

Dan too has shown that he is more than just a guy who goes on PTI and screams BAM at the camera when he's introduced.  If anything, LeBatard has dialed down his rambunctiousness without losing any of his edge.  Perhaps the presence of his father helps, but LeBatard does provide interesting opinions about sports and has shown his interviewing chops by diverging from focusing his questions on topics of the day in favor of using the few minutes he gets with his subjects to ask them about their backgrounds, childhoods, and other topics that are not typically covered in short interview segments.  In doing so, LeBatard generally succeeds in making his interview subjects relatable, something particularly true in his interview with Joe Namath, who shared personal reflections on his relationship with his father, a topic that seemed to move Papi in a meaningful way.  Other stand out interviews LeBatard has conducted include segments with Bernard Hopkins, Ozzie Guillen and Robert Smith.  

The format of the show itself is familiar to viewers of PTI, a rapid-fire run through the day's sports topics with an interview segment wedged in between.  But the format of the show is immaterial.  The chemistry between Dan and Papi is what makes the show shine.  While the producers did put in some small twists, for example, the closing segment, "si o no," where the disembodied "producer" asks Dan and Papi if they are interested in watching particular sporting events that night, usually weave in a non-sports related, and often ridiculous reality show like "Rat Pig," the banter between Dan and his dad, the latter of whom is often unfamiliar with the premise of reality shows, is what makes the show so amusing.  Of late, further wrinkles have been added, like Kimbo Slice randomly appearing at the top of one recent episode, a zookeeper appearing with a vulture and some sort of large rodent on another, and the occasional call to Dan's mom (and Papi's wife) to discuss Papi's quirks, be it hiding cookies in the house or the aforementioned toenail discoloration.

Having worked out some of the bugs early on, like explaining why the show has quick edits and figuring out where/how to insert the "producer" to probe for further explanation, DLHQ is coming into its own as an integral part of the ESPN lineup.  It also shows that likability and chemistry between the hosts is far more critical to a program's entertainment value than how its formatted or what subjects are discussed. When it comes to DLHQ I am intrigued, I am very intrigued (two arm pumps).  

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