On Monday, NBC Sports Philadelphia announced it was pulling the plug on Philly Sports Talk, which dates back to the debut of then-Comcast SportsNet back in 1997. The final episode of the long-running show will air Thursday at 5 p.m.
For 16 of its 21 years on the air, Philly Sports Talk was known as Daily News Live, an irreverent, colorful, and at times brash 90-minute sports roundtable filled with a collection of ink-stained wretches who had never appeared regularly on television before.
Comcast SportsNet paired the Daily News’ collection of “not ready for prime-time players” with Michael Barkann, a former KYW-TV sports reporter who had to be wooed away from a television job in Boston by two of his former colleagues — Tom Stathakes and Jim Cuddihy.
“They said, ‘We’re putting the band back together. Want to come back?’ And it was the hardest decision I ever made,” Barkann said. “My wife wouldn’t help me with the decision. She said, ‘If this goes bad, you’re not blaming me for the rest of our lives.’ We obviously made the right move.”
It’s hard to attempt to catalog the many great moments captured during the show’s 21-year tenure. The show that aired the day after the 9/11 terrorists attacks in 2001 — featuring then-Phillies manager Larry Bowa calling in to reflect on the tragedy — stands out. As does the February 2001 show in which former Daily News writer Dick Jerardi went through a full makeover.
But perhaps the best moments of Daily News Live occurred on a number of Christmas Eves, when the censors were asleep and former Temple men’s basketball coach John Chaney was allowed to roam free and unfiltered for just about the full 90 minutes For those shows, it was often former Comcast SportsNet anchor Neil Hartmann sitting in for Barkann, who was joined by former Daily News writers Jerardi and Michael Kern.
“My role was to remind the coach that we were on live television,” Jerardi said. “You never quite knew where you were going to go next, but that was kind of the thrill of it all.”
Here are some amusing anecdotes and heartfelt remembrances from the personalities behind the success of Daily News Live:
Michael Barkann, former Daily News Live host
I remember the first day we all met in the Inquirer building, and it was all the writers and columnists at the Philadelphia Daily News … We went over with a small group — probably three or for of us from then-Comcast SportsNet. The writers were like deer in headlights.
Marcus [Hayes] is not much different now that he was then [laughter], because the first thing out of his mouth was, ‘We’re not throwing to commercial break.’ We assured him that no, nobody’s going to be throwing to a commercial break, Michael will take those chores on, not a big deal. [laughter] They were kind-of curious as to what they’d gotten themselves into.
Dick Jerardi, former Daily News sports writer
Before the show, we were just names on a piece of paper, which was great. But it’s a different realm when you’re on television. I remember being stopped in San Francisco one day just walking down the street from some guy, “Hey, I saw you on Daily News Live.”
When it was two or three of us, with Michael as the host, I thought that was easily the best format for the show. Basically it was a lot of us with a camera rolling talking about what we’d probably be talking about anyway without a camera.
I went down to do a story on the Babe Ruth museum in Baltimore and came back and wrote it for the paper. I believe the day it appeared in the paper, Stan Hochman, Michael and myself did an entire 90-minute show on Babe Ruth. I’m thinking, ‘Boy, are we going to be able to pull this off?’ And it was no problem.
Paul Domowitch, Inquirer and Daily News Eagles beat reporter
Comcast used to pay Eagles [players] to make once-a-week appearances with us on the show. Some, like Jon Runyan, were very good. Some weren’t so good.
I remember they had former wide receiver Greg Lewis on one season. Lewis could be a real dick when he wanted to be. And he wanted to be when he was on DNL. He'd show up in clothes fit for a homeless guy and give two to three word answers to questions. I came real close to punching him out one time.
Before the Thrilla in Manilla between Les [Bowen] and [Jeff] McLane, there was the near-fight between Les and NFL Films’ Greg Cosell. Les wasn’t a big fan of Greg’s. I like Greg, but back then, he had a lot of his late uncle Howard’s arrogance. This was before mobile quarterbacks came into fashion. Greg hated quarterbacks that ran. One time, I’m on the show between Les and Greg, and Greg starts in on Donovan McNabb, and it was everything I could do to keep Les from jumping over me and going after Greg.
Ed Barkowitz, Inquirer and Daily News sports writer
Occasionally, they would take the set out of the studio. One time we were at Citizens Bank Park and Charlie Manuel had come on. The Phillies were playing Pittsburgh that night and Manuel was raving about their young centerfielder [Andrew McCutchen] as only Chuck can.
Paraphrasing here, but it went something like this.
“I’ll tell you who I like,” he said. “That McClutchen kid is something. Yeah, I’d like to have McClutchen. Good hitter, good in the field. Like that McClutchen kid.”
McCutchen. McClutchen. Didn’t matter. We all knew who he meant.
I get how selfish this is, but my greatest memory is all the people that show enabled me to meet. Don’t have his name, but the most indelible was being on with one of the men held in the Iranian hostage crisis (1979-81). He was in town at some function during an Army-Navy game.
Yeah, it sucks that it’s gone. But that’s OK. We were on longer than M*A*S*H.
Pat McLoone, Inquirer and Daily News sports managing editor
I remember my old boss, Mike Rathet, going over proposed hosts in the late ‘90s. One was a guy in Boston who I vaguely remembered from a previous stop in Philly named [Michael] Barkann. At the time, he didn’t really stand out to me, but there is no doubt he was the perfect choice. Michael brought his passion for the show every day.
People know Barkann very well. What they might not remember is that, for at least a decade, a huge force behind the scenes was Rob Ellis as producer. Back then, Rob knew as much as our guys and never let it affect how he ran the show off camera. Rob, of course, has gone on to demonstrate that knowledge and personality in both TV and radio.
I didn’t do the show very often. When I did it was because Comcast SportsNet was good enough to let me promote something big for the Daily News or the company. Across the board, from the very top bosses to the people who answered the phones on the front line, I was treated with class and our writers were, too.
Michael Kern, former Daily News sports writer
Our show, when it was Daily News Live, we had a personality. Whether you liked it or not, or your agreed with it, we had a personality. If Jeradi was on, you knew it was going to be a bit irreverent and we might make fun of hockey. If I was on I was probably going to say “Tagger” Woods and everyone was going to make fun of the way I said Tiger.
For me personally, the Christmas Eve shows with John Chaney were the best stuff that was ever on there… It was almost always me, Dick Jeradi and Neil Hartmann. He came on and gave ties away, told stories…. He’d always come up with something different, whether it was making fun of Hartmann being a Republican or something to do with [John] Calipari — it was just great stuff.
It was funny because we didn’t have a second-filter on the show, and the bosses were really worried about it. And I remember one year John said something like ‘ass or ’s–,’ I can’t remember which. Someone said, ‘John you can’t say that.’ And John said, ‘I just did.’
Finally, about 7 p.m., because he had to go home and make his oyster dressing, he would be like Santa Claus. He’d go to his Porsche or whatever, some foreign car, and wave goodbye and drive off into the night.
Marcus Hayes, Inquirer and Daily News sports columnist
The most entertaining aspect of the show involved remote sets and remote reporting. Setting up under the trees after a long day at Eagles training camp was always a challenge. Reporting remotely as a beat writer was often an inconvenience, since it was the middle of a work day, so we were usually in a sour mood. Which made for some testy back-and-forth.
My favorite remote reporter was Les Bowen, covering hockey. He always had a ton of news, because back then the Flyers coach met with the press 90 minutes before game time. Except every time Les came on, the arena tested its sound system, or the Zamboni began to resurface the ice. Les did not appreciate the interference.
It was hilarious.
Les Bowen, Inquirer and Daily News Eagles beat reporter
One time we were doing the show from Citizens Bank Park and the skies opened up. Our location wasn’t under shelter so they had us all run through the storm to cars that took us back over to the studio, where the poor makeup lady frantically waved hair dryers at our sopping clothes.
Overall, I would say the show raised my profile considerably. People still recognize me from it, and don’t seem to be aware I haven’t been on in more than a year, and stopped being a regular long before that.
For a long time, DNL was a place where you could get thoughtful, nonclickbait analysis of the day’s issues, without the tiresome intentionally provocative takes that drive talk radio. It was a wonderful forum. I learned that live TV is harder than you might think, even if you are reasonably quick on your feet.
There were times when it was hard to shoehorn the show into a busy day. I wish during those times, when I considered it more of an obstacle than a privilege, someone had told me, ‘Hey, this is a good thing that won’t last forever.’ It sure didn’t.