Slicing Up a Spinoff

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Cold Pizza, ESPN2’s national morning show, will deliver a series slice to ESPN, beginning next month.

The show will drive its “1st and Ten” segment — the point/counterpoint exchange between veteran sports and TV journalists Woody Paige and Skip Bayless and show co-host Jay Crawford — into a half-hour weekday program at 4 p.m. sometime in December, according to network officials.

Last week, Cold Pizza executive producer Brian Donlon said testing began on the editing and compositing of the four segments that appear on the morning show as a prelude to how 1st and Ten will emerge on ESPN later that afternoon.

“This is a good opportunity for the show to get more exposure on the main ESPN channel,” said Donlon. “I think Jay, Woody and Skip are three interesting, exciting guys that more viewers will get to know.

“The [spinoff] should drive more tune-in to our show’s mix of sports, entertainment and pop culture.”

SURVIVED A YEAR

The 1st and Ten spinoff is just one of the new toppings the ratings-challenged Cold Pizza will serve up to viewers as the show, which survived a ton of early criticism, continues to evolve as it moves into its second year.

Last Friday, Cold Pizza initiated the first in a series of ongoing segments titled “Fleecing of the Fan,” which will examine the economics of going to see live sports events.

This week, the show — which celebrated its anniversary on Oct. 20 — will take an in-depth look at the history of the sports-talk radio format.

Later this month, it will introduce a new music feature, NBA Hit, centering on the favorite songs of the pro hoops league’s players, as well as rankings of the top sounds in sports arenas. And fifteen installments exploring sports’ most bitter rivalries will kick off with the Army-Navy football hostilities in early December.

“We want to dig deeper with our stories that have more journalistic gravitas,” said Donlon, who pointed to the praise that Cold Pizza received for its series on “Most Tortured Sports Cities.”

Cold Pizza, co-hosted by Kit Hoover and Thea Andrews, has already seen a number of changes in recent weeks. The two-hour show was moved back to an 8 a.m. start on Oct. 11, accompanied by a new lead-in, the Who’s No. 1 list shows produced for ESPN’s 25th anniversary. Fishing, fitness and dog-competition programs had previously preceded it, but ESPN executive vice president of programming and production Mark Shapiro felt the program needed a more compatible lead-in.

“I’m not sure that the people who are interested in watching fly fishing or dogs jumping into water are really going to stick around and watch our show,” said Donlon, a former executive at Lifetime Television and CBS’s The Early Show.

Cold Pizza also has been placing more emphasis on pure sports-related topics, reducing its music plays and cutting out its celebrity meteorological segments.

“I don’t know the exact percentages. Maybe we were 60% non-sports and 40% sports at the start,” said Donlon. “Now, maybe, it’s 75% sports and 25% non-sports. Is that the right place? Probably. But it depends on the day.”

On a recent visit, Donlon made no apologies for hosting Paul Johanson, who plays the father on The WB’s drama One Tree Hill.

“He was a member of the Canadian national basketball team and the show has a basketball theme. His father played for the Stanley Cup-winning Detroit Red Wings team in 1950, and One Tree Hill is a good show. Why wouldn’t he be a guest?” said Donlon, who hated the label attached to Pizza.

“When I hear variety, I think The Ed Sullivan Show. Well, I can assure that Topo Gigio isn’t going to be on our air,” Donlon quipped.

CONVENTION KUDOS

What will be is a continued array of guests, features and news. Donlon said some of Cold Pizza’s best-received reports emanated from its coverage of the Democratic and Republican and National Conventions.

The question is how many more will in the months ahead. Over its first year, Cold Pizza’s household rating mark hovered around a 0.1. ESPN officials said there has been some uptick in recent weeks.

“We have transitioned from a broad-based morning show that included sports to a sports-based show that now includes news, entertainment and the broader culture,” said Shapiro in a prepared statement. “We are seeing ratings results and our commitment to Cold Pizza is as strong as ever.”

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