One thing is for sure: No matter what you think of Joe Buck - whether you like his style or you're not crazy about the way he calls a game - you're about to see a new side of him.
Joe Buck Live will premiere on HBO tonight at 9. It's part talk show, part sketch comedy - a totally different look at a guy Americans know mainly from his work as a baseball and football play-by-play man for Fox. If you haven't seen the promo, you should check it out (tinyurl.com/joebucklive). There's a funny scene at the end when Buck gets into it with an elderly peanut vendor.
I talked to Buck about replacing Bob Costas at HBO, working without a tape delay, and why he desperately needs a new cell phone:
Congrats on getting your own show on HBO. What are you going to do when the groupies come after you?
Well, I'm 40. My groupies would probably be in their 60s. So . . . run fast?
It looks like you're tweaking the traditional, serious sports-talk format and having a little fun with it. How do you think people will respond to that side of you?
That's a word I hope people will use - fun. Fun and relevant. It's got to be light and fun. We want to do that. We'll try to do that. But we have to have really good interviews on the show, too. We need worthwhile guests. Ultimately, we'll be judged on how good the interviews are and how much we learn during them. Then we'll try to lighten the mood with filler and fluff.
Who's your first guest?
I don't know if I should tell you.
This isn't coming out until Monday. Your secret will be safe until then.
Brett Favre is the first guest.
Wonderful. We haven't heard much about him lately. Is he still with the Packers?
Yeah, I've been trying to avoid the ESPN machine. I don't want them to get wind of it.
How did you get involved with HBO?
I did a pilot for Fox. I showed it to Ross Greenburg [president of HBO Sports] . . . [Phone cuts out. Buck calls me back.] Sorry. I hate this phone. Anyway, Greenburg said if any slot comes open, you'll be the first person I call. I thought I was getting blown off - the age-old don't call us, we'll call you. Then the Costas move to the MLB Network came out of nowhere, and Ross called in December. I knew I wanted to be there.
How will your show be different than Costas'? From the promo, it seems like you'll try to incorporate a fair amount of scripted humor.
The worst thing in the world is to say "I'm really funny." But I think I have more to show people than I have with my day job. It was HBO's idea to put me in those situations. I'm glad about that. I'm a different person than Bob. I'm not going in this trying to be Bob. [Phone cuts out again. Buck calls back again.] I want to throw this phone in the river right now . . .
You should take some of that new HBO money and treat yourself to a new phone - one that works. With the way you're setting up the show - some interviews, some comedy skits - it sounds like you're almost trying to do a sports version of what Conan O'Brien does.
I hold him in high regard, but I think the interviews will be a little harder. We're really well covered at HBO with Real Sports, so there is some room in there to loosen up and have fun within this hour. My main writer is a guy named Jon Glaser. He has his own show on Adult Swim called Delocated. Watch that for five seconds, and you'll realize who I wanted to bring on as the writer. We're going to have different comedic takes on topics. We'll have a comedians' roundtable that will include standup comics and actors. So we'll have that built in.
Are you nervous about doing the show live? I have a delete key, and as many of my readers might tell you, I still screw up all the time.
Yeah, it's flat-out live. I don't know if people get that. It's not "live, but taped four hours ago." And I don't have a show on Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday. I have to be good on Monday. That's what separates this show from some of the others. If this stinks, I'll have to chew on it for a while. But I'm excited. We don't have much in the can. When I walk out there [tonight], I'll be feeling my way through it. That's a tough thing to do on a live, coast-to-coast broadcast. In a few months or a few years, I'll probably look back and roll my eyes and not want to see this show ever again because it was our first try.
So you're hoping for a performance slightly better than abject failure? If the HBO gig doesn't work out, you should work for Page 2. That's our motto - "trying to avoid abject failure."
I'm just hoping for something that's worth watching. It doesn't have to be the most important show on TV - it doesn't need to be that. It just needs to be worth watching.
The Wiggles is the most important show on TV.