Walking through the El Segundo studio where veteran sportscaster Rich Eisen tapes his daily “Rich Eisen Show,” the sheer density of sports memorabilia is overwhelming — everything from game balls to jerseys, gear, autographs and uncountable photos are crammed onto every inch of wall and desk space. But step into Eisen’s dressing room, and the focal item next to the host’s mirror tells a different story: An ancient Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner comedy LP, signed by both.
Indeed, a closer look at some of the guest snapshots along the walls reveals a striking number of Hollywood figures among the expected who’s-who of football legends. Ever since launching “The Rich Eisen Show” in 2014, Eisen has been striving to make his show an unlikely meeting point between the worlds of sports and showbusiness, combining the deep-dive debate of sports talk radio with the breezy banter of late night TV. So far, it’s working: the three hour multiplatformer — which airs on DirecTV’s Audience Network and is broadcast on Fox Sports Radio — has increasingly become a destination for stars on a media swing. Repeat guests include Matt Damon, Ice Cube and Matthew McConaughey, while the likes of Michael B. Jordan, Jodie Foster, Jane Lynch and Michael Douglas have all stopped by over the past several months.
Visiting the set of his show late last year, it’s clear how naturally the combination can work with the right guests — early in the day, former Warriors and Clippers star Baron Davis shows up with costumes in tow; later on, Will Ferrell arrives for an interview clad in his AYSO soccer referee’s uniform.
“Every athlete wants to be a musician or an actor, and I suspect the inverse might be true too,” Eisen reasons.
Eisen spent years as an omnipresent ESPN figure before becoming the NFL Network’s resident renaissance man roughly 15 years ago, serving as host of “NFL Total Access,” as well as presenting everything from pregame analysis to Super Bowl coverage. He added podcast host to his resume in 2010, and when the 2011 NFL lockout left the network concerned about its future supply of content, they approached him about taking his podcast onscreen. The roots of “The Rich Eisen Show” gradually evolved from there, and the host says that finding a connection between sports and Hollywood was the objective from the start.
“It’s not like we’re inventing the wheel here,” Eisen says of combining the two entertainment spheres. “But it kind of dawned on me, after doing the Super Bowl for a few years, that the largest sporting event that we export to the world stops in the middle for a rock concert, and no one bats an eye anymore. So why not have a show that focuses on the cross-section of everything?”
To narrow that cross-focus, Eisen hired two booking agencies: One for the sports guests, and another – Central Talent Booking, which also handles “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” – for the entertainment side. It took some time to sell everyone on the idea however, as Eisen recalls: “Our initial challenge booking the show was that a lot of folks in the PR world here in L.A. might think the show is too male-oriented or too sports-oriented for their clients. I always think back to the scene in ‘Diner’ where the character wasn’t gonna get married unless his fiancée passed a quiz in the basement on the Baltimore Colts… That’s not what we do here. At all. What we do is use sports as the point of entry.”
Of course, for sports-obsessed stars, that point of entry might end up taking up the majority of the interview. “Matt Damon could not get enough about “deflate-gate’ off his chest when he came on to talk about the newest ‘Bourne’ movie,” Eisen remembers. “Larry David had a lot to say about the Jets and the Yankees when he came on, and of course that lets us talk about him playing George Steinbrenner [on ‘Seinfeld’]. Jeffrey Wright had a lot to say about Colin Kaepernick. Jodie Foster talked about her fantasy football team. But the understanding is that we can talk as little or as much about sports as you’re comfortable with.”
Asked for names of his white whale potential guests, Eisen cycles through the likes of Tom Hanks (who once called into the show), George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. Yet it’s hard not to notice the sheer number of standups who have graced his stage over the years, and that’s not by accident – hence the Brooks and Reiner record in his dressing room. A onetime aspiring comic back in college, Eisen recently collaborated with Funny or Die for a series of shorts last year, and hopes to incorporate a live audience into his broadcasts going forward, to help capture more of the vibe of a comedy show.
“I’ve always been an aficionado of late night talk shows, the craft of having a conversation where not everything has to be a question,” he says. “I’d love to have a live audience because whenever I make a joke and don’t hear laughter, I feel like it’s fallen flat.”
Asked if he ever feels the urge to head down to a comedy club and try his hand during open-mic nights, Eisen smiles and affects an outraged demeanor. “I am an employee of the National Football League and a contractor at AT&T, sir – my standup days are over.”