For every Canadian broadcaster that experiences success in the U.S. like John (J.D.) Roberts, Ali Velshi and the late Peter Jennings, there are several that make the leap but flounder in that country’s bigger pool.
That said, it is arguable that none have had a softer landing than Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole. After being lured away by Fox Sports 1 and spending the last four years in California, the pair are back where their many fans think they belong, manning the highlights and offering up their cracked brand of sports comedy with Monday’s launch of SC with Jay and Dan on TSN.
Of their American adventures, which featured a switch of the executive regime, multiple format changes to their show, and a point where they weren’t allowed to show highlights, the pair have no regrets at all.
“You can point to a bunch of things, but in the end, we went to L.A., got paid really well and got to live in California for four years, so nobody should feel bad for us,” Onrait says.
“They paid us to essentially go to four years of American broadcast school,” O’Toole says. “We became better broadcasters.”
Onrait interrupts, making a disagreeing sound. “You’re really setting us up with that.”
“Now we know different TV terms,” O’Toole says. “So that makes us better, right?”
TSN’s plan is for Onrait and O’Toole to tape their show at midnight, which will then be followed by a more traditional SportsCentre with current hosts Kate Beirness and Natasha Staniszewski. Then the two shows will repeat on a loop on the various TSN feeds.
“TSN is now, what, 60 feeds?” says Onrait. “No, five feeds, so the thing about Kate and Natasha’s show is that it’s so different from ours, and the complaint about TSN’s five feeds is what’s the point when four of them have the same thing on? Well, now you’re going to get a little variety if you want it, which is the way that content is going.”
For TSN, it is a bit of a no-brainer, as it opens up another show with advertising opportunities, and Canadian companies want to be in the Jay and Dan business. Tim Horton’s has signed on as a title sponsor for their new show, while Coors Light will be sponsoring the pair’s returning podcast.
As for what to expect, the boys are happy to be able to say it will be what you expect, with some new additions.
“We’ve been doing rehearsals all week, so that’s different. And the first one, it was like we had never left,” O’Toole says. “It was the show that we love doing. The show that has highlights, the show that has our personalities, and it was just like . . . deep sigh. It felt like putting on an old comfortable sweater.
“We also have some segments from our Fox show — our last incarnation, there were about seven — but we’re going to be bringing some of that too.
They plan to incorporate some more casual, chatty segments, and hope to have fun with their colleagues, who may want to get their goof on.
“We want to have Bobby Mack (NHL insider Bob McKenzie) on all the time, and I guess we’ll have (James) Duthie on. We want to have people on and get some more out of them,” Onrait says. “Like we were just talking about Ryan Rishaug, TSN’s Edmonton-based reporter, he is so different on the air than he is off, so we would like to show some of that.”
There has been a huge outpouring of support from their fan base, and they say everywhere they go, they have been met with people saying, ‘We’re so happy you are back.’ They are surprised by the lack of negative comments, but say they feel no pressure because the show is exactly what they want to do.
That said, they do admit they will miss some things about their time in Lalaland.
“The people. Americans are underrated. Not Trump, but the other ones,” Onrait says. “Even though the network itself was a bit of a work in progress, to put it kindly, the day-to-day going to work was really enjoyable, which made the other stuff not matter.”
“Driving onto the Fox lot in L.A. everyday, it was like, this is Hollywood,” O’Toole says. “There are palm trees, a street called New York Street they use to film commercials and sitcoms. Bonesused to film there all the time. So you really got the sense that this is TV in America, so that drive into work, I’m going to miss.”
“It’s a similar situation now,” cracks Onrait. “Where we drive into work in Scarborough, at 9 Channel Nine Court, (it) has the remnants of where they used to shoot The Littlest Hobo in the parking lot.”