Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole are well aware that coming back to Canadian television, after their 3-1/2-year foray into the U.S. big time ended in cancellation, can be seen as settling for a consolation prize.
“Canadians can look at this this way,” O’Toole said Wednesday after TSN announced the duo will return in September to the network that made them stars. “We went to an American college or university for four years. Now we’re coming back to live with mom and dad.”
From 2003 to 2013, their irreverent humour spiced up the late-night delivery of sports highlights on TSN’s SportsCentre. The show was re-broadcast on weekday mornings and Onrait and O’Toole attracted a large and young audience.
This in turn attracted the attention of Fox Sports 1, which was launched to compete with the U.S. sports broadcast behemoth ESPN.
Onrait, 42, and O’Toole, 41, were hired as the hosts of Fox Sports Live, which launched in August, 2013, as a nightly highlights show, and moved to Los Angeles.
They were a critical success from the start, but Fox Sports 1 has yet to seriously threaten ESPN in the ratings war with any of its shows.
When former ESPN boss Jamie Horowitz was hired as president of Fox Sports National Networks in May, 2016, it marked a change Onrait and O’Toole were destined not to survive. Horowitz prefers debate screamfests to sports news and highlights.
Even though Fox Sports Live had already moved away from highlights to interviews and segments that emphasized the comedy skills of Onrait and O’Toole, the show was cancelled last week.
It was also announced that the duo’s contracts, which expire at the end of the month, would not be renewed.
Onrait said although they would have loved to stay in the United States, neither he nor O’Toole hold a grudge over their departure from Fox because new network presidents are entitled to have a different philosophy about television.
“[Horowitz] loves the debate shows, that’s totally cool,” Onrait said. “It’s just not what we do.
“I think in a way it was probably for the best, because we didn’t fit in with the network anymore with what we were doing.”
While talks with TSN began right after last week’s announcement by Fox, Onrait and O’Toole could have stayed in the United States.
However, they wanted to continue doing the same kind of show they did on TSN and Fox and, most of all, they wanted to continue working together.
“We had some other opportunities but at the same time this is what we were hoping for,” Onrait said.
“We like working together.”
Starting on Labour Day, Onrait and O’Toole will be the hosts of the midnight version of TSN’s SportsCentre from Monday to Friday and it will be rebroadcast the following morning.
They will spread their comedy among sports highlights, stories and some of the same segments they used to do such as Ya Blew It!!! that were fan-favourites.
Onrait and O’Toole will also appear on other TSN broadcasts and provide original content for the network’s digital and social platforms, which will be aimed at millennials.
Onrait said the new show will be much like their version of Fox Sports Live when it was cancelled, except that SportsCentre With Jay and Dan will have sports news and highlights.
While highlights shows are dying off in the United States because younger viewers now watch YouTube and other sports-highlights packages on their phones, both Onrait and O’Toole as well as TSN believe there is still a place for them, at least in Canada.
Both broadcasters say they have no regrets about their time in the United States but both say they have a powerful incentive to come home and it’s not just about being near family and friends.
During their years with Fox, Onrait said they would get messages on Twitter and other social media every day that said they were missed in Canada.
“I want to echo Jay and say a massive thankyou to people for not forgetting us,” O’Toole said.
“We’ll be forever thankful for people keeping us top-of-mind.”
It appears Tim Moriarty, who produced their original TSN show and went with them to Fox, earning the on-air moniker Producer Tim, will also be coming back to Canada.
“What we can tell you is he is currently in negotiations with TSN to join us,” Onrait said.
“It’s not surprising he would be the last holdout because he is … finicky.”Report Typo/Error