This weekend, Curt Menefee begins his seventh regular season as host of FOX NFL Sunday. He took time to speak with KSK on Thursday about what he goes through each week on an NFL studio show, what he’s looking forward to for this season, how the show could possibly move on without the comedic genius that is Frank Caliendo and why exactly Terry Bradshaw seems to be the only one allowed to narrate highlights.
KSK: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. You excited for the first Sunday of the season? I know you were working preseason games already. But this has to be a little more of a charge.
Menefee: Yeah. I know there was the opening game on Wednesday, but it’s that first Sunday when you get the real experience of the regular season starting. We have 13 games going on. You get really excited when training camp is over. Now the real games start and these means something, it matters now, so everybody can freak out over every win and loss. All the teams that win, everybody will put them in the Super Bowl the day after.
KSK: The Cowboys are winning the Super Bowl and Kevin Ogletree is MVP. Didn’t you hear?
Menefee: Exactly. All the people who predicted that the Giants would make the playoffs are freaking out about them losing. This is what happens. I don’t care who you are. As great as the Packers were last year, they lost to somebody. But fans tend to overreact even more when a team loses its opener. It goes the other way, too, where you get people putting teams in the Super Bowl based on one win. The preseason feeds in to that. Some teams will gameplan for two or three weeks for that season opener, whereas in the regular season, you only get that week or maybe two between games. With a game like we had on Wednesday night, it doesn’t matter how much prep went into it. It’s a rivalry game. That’s what made it so difficult for the Giants against the Cowboys. It wasn’t that it was the opening game, it was a game against someone in the division, a situation where they know you and you know them. It’s always a little harder in those situations.
KSK: There was a recent changes with the lineup of the FOX pregame show. Frank Caliendo is out as the designated comic relief or whatever you want to call it and he’s been replaced by Rob Riggle. How do you think Riggle will be different? Do you have any insight into what we can expect out of him?
Menefee: I don’t have specific knowledge of the plans. I’ve talked to Rob and spoken to the producers about it. I think everybody trusts in him and trusts in his voice. It’s not gonna be impressions, like Frank used to do, ’cause that’s not what Rob does. I think Rob will come in and do some skits and eventually he’ll find what he wants to do with it on a regular basis. I look forward to it. I know him from “The Daily Show” and he was great on that. He’s a great guy, too. Former Marine. We’ve been out a few times. Very down-to-earth, very salt-of-the-earth guy. And he’s very funny, of course. I expect he’s going to do very well.
KSK: Is what you’re doing now where you see yourself for the long haul or do you have other visions or aspirations for where your broadcasting career will go?
Menefee: If I do anything else in my broadcasting career, I will always, if they’ll have me, be the host of FOX NFL Sunday. There’s the Michael Strahan situation now where he’s doing the bi-coastal thing with his other gig. I don’t know if that’s in my dreams or my future or anything like that. But I know why he’s sticking around, because there’s a lot of value in doing this show and just the fun of doing the show. That’s the reason why I want to stay around forever, why all of us do. Not matter what else you do, you don’t wanna give up this show because it’s fun and the people involved are great to be around. We all watch football anyway, so why not do something where you’re involved with it for a living? No matter what I do in this business, FOX NFL Sunday will be my anchor, hopefully. If they’ll have me, I’ll be here.
KSK: I was watching a few weeks ago, you were doing a lead-in for the Lions-Ravens preseason game. The camera was showing Ray Lewis doing his spastic out of the tunnel dance during player intros. You let it play out, then said, “That’s so Raven!” Was that a line you were sitting on for a while or it just came to you, then?
Menefee: It came to me that day. Obviously, we were talking about the shots that we’d use in the opening of the show. Someone said we’ll do the Ray Lewis dance coming out of the tunnel. I’m thinking, gosh, how many times have we seen Ray Lewis do that? It’s just like over and over. I think people are over it. But they were like, “no, no, it’s a cool shot.” But then the line came to me about how I think we’ve seen it enough times. Like, that’s so Ray Lewis. My mind went straight to That’s so Raven. That came to me probably half an hour before we went on the air. So I said it and the guys in the truck laughed.
KSK: I come from more of a print background. I’ve heard stories, most famously Malcolm Gladwell when he used to work for The Washington Post, about reporters having bets with their colleagues about being able to squeeze certain words or phrases into their pieces. Have you encountered anything like that in the broadcasting world? Not necessarily anything beyond the pale, but maybe even a small turn of phrase that someone intentionally worked in for other reasons.
Menefee: I’ve never done that before. I know Joe Buck has done it. He’s been open about it. He’s had friends text him a word that he would try to get into a game broadcast. I’ve never done that. I have people always ask, “Hey, can you give me a shoutout or can you say this?” And I’ll say, yeah, sure, whenever I say New York Giants, then that’s a shoutout to you, how about that? Let those people think whatever they want to think.
KSK: Are you involved in this year’s Madden game? I saw online that you had a part in the last two.
Menefee: That’s one of the biggest misnomers that I encounter. Did you get that off of Wikipedia?
KSK: Yeah, guilty.
Menefee: About once a year, I get asked that. I’ll say no I never did. And they’ll say, “Well, that’s what Wikipedia said.”
KSK: I was thrown off by that when I saw the mention. I buy Madden each year, so when I saw that you were involved, I couldn’t remember ever seeing you or hearing your voice in the game. I’m thinking to myself, where is he buried in this game?
Menefee: Somehow, someway, that got on there. I guess it’s still on there. I’ve had nothing to do with the Madden game other than purchasing it.
KSK: Is that something you’d be interested in doing if they approached you? Though it seems they’re going the CBS route right now, since they just got Phil Simms and Jim Nantz to do the commentary.
Menefee: If I were approached, I’d love to do it. Like I said, I enjoy playing or attempting to play the game. I don’t do it very well. I don’t have the time to devote to it that I’d like to. But, yeah, absolutely. That’d be something that’d be fun to do. That’s the good thing about the point I’ve reached in my career. I’m able to do some things now that are fun.
KSK: When Caliendo was let go by FOX, Mike Florio wrote a post for his site saying that the NBC crew considered Frank their favorite segment from another show, that people there would stop everything and watch. Are there any segments that the other NFL studio shows do that you really enjoy in particular?
Menefee: I’m honest when I say that everybody does a great job. Everybody does their own little thing. I watch everybody’s show. Or I TiVo it and eventually watch it, because I can’t watch them live. One of my favorites is “C’mon, Man!” on ESPN. I know it’s more of a Monday night feature. That’s one of the more enjoyable things I look forward to every week. You agree with them most of the time. Not only is it the perfect segment to highlight some of the things that happened in football the Sunday before, it’s kind of the perfect phrase. That’s a great segment. It’s one of those ones that I wish that we had, that were that perfect.
KSK: Take me through your schedule on a typical Sunday during the football season. What time are you getting in? When do things get the most hectic?
Menefee: Sunday morning, 5:30 a.m. is our call time. We do the show in Los Angeles, so we’re on West Coast time. We get in, we’ll have a production meeting. We’ve already had conference calls during the week, but this works as a final meeting before the show. How long it goes depends on how many stories Jimmy and Terry have to tell. Usually, it’s anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half. We see each other because we spend our Saturdays together watching college football most weeks. So we’ll laugh and talk and go over what we plan to have on the show. By 7 o’clock, we’re supposed to be on set, dressed, get our make-up put on, all that good stuff. We’ll have rehearsal for about an hour, hour and a half. Now, our show is 70 percent ad-libbed, so rehearsal is mostly seeing features that we need to see. Or we’re checking in to make sure Pam Oliver is in Green Bay and she can hear us and we can hear her. Hopefully we’ll get done by 8:30, gives us about a half hour to relax and adjust before we get on the air. The show comes on at 9 and we do that for an hour. As soon as the show is done, we start taking in the games. We got a giant monitor wall where we can watch every single game. Not everybody sticks around set all the time. I have to stay there on set the entire day. I practically have to raise my hand to go to the bathroom. It’s almost like school. I have to do game breaks. Anytime there’s a touchdown or a score or something controversial happens in one game, I have to take it around to all the other FOX feeds. Usually there are four games going on at a time. Sometimes there can be five. Rarely there are six. I’ll be watching the games and doing the game breaks, then halftime rolls around. There’s a live halftime segment for each and every show. That’s the fire drill I tell people they should see. It’s one of those, you’ve got Detroit-Green Bay, you do that halftime. Sometimes, it can be literally 15 seconds after you’re done, you’ve got Giants-Eagles hitting the half. Then that one’s done. Then you gotta do one for Arizona-Seattle. Once the halftimes are over, we kind of start the same thing for the second half. The same thing does on and on all day, until about 5 o’clock, because we have to be on until 8 o’clock Eastern. If it’s a doubleheader weekend, we have The OT for that last half hour of the day until the top of the hour. If not, we’ll just a regular postgame show. So it’s a 12-hour day, essentially. And it’s 12 hours of being on, except for maybe that first hour of prep work.
KSK: What are some storylines that you’re looking forward to for this season?
Menefee: I think the Saints are the ones that jump out at you. You look at them and if there were no head coaching issues or Bountygate suspensions, you’d look at them and think they’re a Super Bowl contender. But you don’t know how they’re gonna respond. Will the talent rise? Will they unify? Will they rally around the cause? I think that’s an intriguing thing to watch because I think the talent is there to be one of the best in the league, so we’ll get to find out just how valuable coaching is. I think obviously everyone is looking to the New York Jets situation. And it has been overhyped to death. Once the games start, I think that’ll take some of that issue out. But I think people are intrigued to see how Mark Sanchez responds and how the team responds to having Tebow looking over his shoulder. Because every single game that Mark Sanchez doesn’t play well, people are gonna say it’s time to play Tebow, it’s time to play Tebow, it’s time to play Tebow. After a while, that grates on a team, it grates on a coach. And also how Peyton Manning responds out in Denver. I saw him play in two preseason games and I think that you saw improvement in both of those games. Will he go back to being the Peyton Manning of old? Who knows? We’ll find out. If he does get that back, you couple that with the defense they had last year, they could be really good. At the same time, for the first time in his life, he won’t have Jeff Saturday as his center, with Tom Moore running his offensive line. He’s been surrounded so long by the same people, now everything’s different for him. Will his skills take over and allow him to continue his success with a brand new team. I think there’s something to be excited about with every team. That’s what’s great about the NFL. I love the Atlanta Falcons this year. I think Julio Jones could be a breakout player. Their skill guys are as good as anybody in the league. That’s what we love about football: you can make an argument for just about every team to be good.
KSK: Do you have a team that you root for?
Menefee: I grew up in Atlanta, so I’m happy when the Falcons do well. I think what happens, though, in this business is that over the years, you end up with relationships and those relationships aren’t necessarily with one team. You got a relationship with somebody and they’re here with four or five years then they’re on another team. That’s with players, that’s with scouts, that’s with general managers, that’s with coaches. So your allegiances tend to be towards the people you know and like more so than the teams you root for.
KSK: The NFL television contracts are such huge business that the networks are almost partners with the league when it comes to presentation. Does that ever affect autonomy of your show? Do you ever receiver notes from producers about how you should or should not approach an issue, like, say, the replacement referees or the ongoing issues with head injuries?
Menefee: No. That’s one thing I can honestly say, that in all my years with FOX, and I started doing games in 1997, never have I been told what to say or how to say it. I tend to believe that’s the case with everybody at FOX. They’ve been open that they hire you to do a job. Obviously, they don’t expect you to go on the air and start saying things that are controversial and starting trouble. Now, do we have discussions about how we want to have a discussion about an issue? I’m sure we will talk about the replacement refs this first week. We’ll have a discussion about we’ve got this much time on it and what are each person’s opinions in general just so we don’t step on each other’s toes. But no one says, “oh man, you shouldn’t say that.” Or, “why don’t you say this?”
KSK: Do you have any concerns for the future of the sport? There have been current and former players coming forward to say they wouldn’t allow their children to play. A couple writers have written pieces even questioning whether it’s still even morally justifiable to be a football fan, given the brain injury issues. Where do you come down on that?
Menefee: To me, those are two separate questions, about whether I have concerns and what I think of the future of the sport. I think, first of all, people hate change. Roger Goodell has ticked off a lot of people. But what he is doing is necessary for the future of the National Football League. Everybody started highlighting it this year, but it’s been going on for a number of years. It used to just be mothers who said I don’t want my son playing football. But there have became a lot of fathers, not just professional athletes but everyday parents, who say I don’t know about my son playing football. So you get a lot of kids who don’t grow up playing the game. 10, 15 years from now, the kids that are now 8, 9 or 10 will be 23, 24, 25 but they won’t be looking to get into the league. The number of players goes down. The quality of football goes down. So if you gotta address it, you gotta address it now. Gotta make sure not only the league takes care of it, but that it filters down to youth football. As far as concerns for the future of the sport, and I know it sounds weird coming from someone on television, probably my biggest concern is the league getting overexposed. I think you have to get concerned after a while that you’ve got games on Thursday, Sunday, Monday and then towards the end of the season, you get those Saturday games as well. College football is a big deal. Big on Saturday, but you get those games on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, after a while, people just go, “You know what? I can’t watch everything. I have to have a life. I can’t give up four, five nights a week.” Then they start tuning out. So I think that’s a big concern for me about the future of football. People seem to be at a point where they can’t get enough now, but at some point if it’s there all the time, will they get enough. Football just used to be on television Sunday and Monday night. Then you’d have to wait another week to get your fix. I think that’s part of the issue with the NBA, with Major League Baseball. The oversaturation. We haven’t gotten there yet, but I have a concern with that happening down the road someday. And I know it’s ironic for me to say because if it weren’t for so much football, I wouldn’t have the life that I have, but you do get concerned about these things.
KSK: One common criticism of the NFL studio shows is that they’re too bloated, there are too many people on set. Do you think it would be easier or more coherent with a smaller on-air staff?
Menefee: I don’t think so. I think everybody does a good job of integrating all the people they have. It’s never a situation where you have nine people talking about the same thing. You get a lot of voices that come in and out. Jay Glazer, the guy on our show, well he’s in for three minute-and-a-half segments a show. ESPN does the same thing with Mortensen and Schefter. So, numbers-wise, there are a lot of people on the show, but I don’t think it actually impacts it in a negative way.
KSK: I don’t know if you can speak to this, but you mentioned Glazer. He’s FOX’s top reporter for the NFL and he seems to have a lot of close relationships with players. He does the MMA training with some guys. How does FOX square those relationships with players with his responsibilities as a reporter?
Menefee: I can’t answer that. I don’t know what conversations they’ve had with Jay or what they continue to have with Jay. Jay Glazer and I have known each other since 1995. I was working for the local FOX station in New York and he was writing for a free newspaper and his checks were bouncing because they couldn’t afford to pay their guys. I’ve known Jay forever and I don’t think he’s compromised at all. By any means. I think it’s helped him break some stories because it establishes better relationships with guys. On a yearly basis, you can go back and go wow, Jay was the guy breaking all these stories. I think if he were trying to protect people he’s friends with, he wouldn’t put out half the stuff he puts out there.
KSK: Why is it that at halftimes or later on during Sunday coverage that Terry Bradshaw is doing the highlight packages? It just seems like an odd choice. The most charitable way I can think of saying it is that Bradshaw isn’t the most polished of broadcasters.
Menefee: I think that’s something that was determined when the show first began back in 1994. I think there are benefits to him doing it. Look, I’m there. He’ll mispronounce a name here and there. He’ll mess up a play here and there. But there’s nobody, I don’t think – and that includes myself or anybody else at any other network – that can break a play down as it’s happening like he can. He can spotlight exactly why a guy got open or what the reason was why the play worked while the highlight is going on. He’s able to recognize that right away. For most of us, it’s just became a matter of name, yardage and score and he’s able to give you more than that. If he flubs a name here and there, that’s why I’m there. I’ll support him and I’ll back him up. I’ll make sure we get the name right and the score right. We all laugh it off and we all have a good time. But I think he brings something unique to the highlights.
KSK: Do you pay attention to online media? Do you read blogs regularly?
Menefee: I do, every day. I check out WithLeather, which is one of yours. I have five or six that I go to every day. I check in a few times per day. I usually start out the day with USSportspages.com because that gives me a chance to read stuff from all over the country. I’ll go to ProFootballTalk. I’ll go to Big Lead. Then I’ll go to WithLeather, then Awful Announcing. Then I’ll finish up with Bleacher Report, since they have a wide focus on a lot of sports, including football, soccer and UFC, which are the main things that I care about.
KSK: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. Hope you enjoy the season and best of luck to you on the show.
Menefee: Well, thank you. No problem. Best of luck to you as well.
I want more like this!
Follow Kissing Suzy Kolber on Facebook and get the latest NFL news and humor before everyone else.