Social-media-savvy ESPN show is a year-round Father's Day tribute

"Dan Le Batard is Highly Questionable" is one of the most unusual, enjoyable sports shows on TV. Smart use of social media is just one reason it's so watchable.

Outspoken (which might be the gentlest thing anyone's said about him) Miami sports journalist Dan Le Batard has a show on ESPN2 (4:30 pm ET weekdays; back on the air Wednesday, June 20), "Dan Le Batard is Highly Questionable" and it consists of him answering sports questions from viewers. Nothing unusual so far, except for the title.

But it's unusual for a lot of reasons.

USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA: One of them is how well it uses social media. It was the first show I saw to display its Twitter hashtag, #DLHQ, on the screen throughout its time on air (since people are going to tweet about you anyway, why not remind them of your hashtag? See my post on Oscar Sunday 2012, "Hashtags on TV: A right way and a wrong way" ).

The show also uses its Twitter feed, @DLHQ, to connect in smart ways with its audience throughout the week, including to collect questions (and, in some cases, answer them). To give you a sense of how much it uses Twitter, the show has posted 4,591 tweets since its September 2011 debut. "Pardon the Interruption" (one of my favorite TV shows of all time and where I first encountered Le Batard where he's been a regular guest host) has done 4,307 -- though it has been on the air for a decade longer (OK, Twitter wasn't around during that entire period). "PTI" has about 420,000 more Twitter followers, but that's another story.

The show has an active Facebook Page, Facebook.com/dlhq, which it uses to post highlights and outtakes.

SERVING UP VIDEOS ON YOUTUBE: While almost all shows shy away from using YouTube for promotion, this program proudly uses the video service as a way to give its best moments, including its interviews with sports personalities, some life beyond normal airtime. Its YouTube channel, DLHQonESPN, has uploaded 206 videos so far, with 1.6 million views and 1,354 subscribers.

PROMOTING DVR USE: DLHQ is also the first show I've seen acknowledge and talk about DVRs in any meaningful way. Knowing that most folks who watch sports talk on TV aren't home when it airs in the early afternoon, viewers are asked to set their DVRs for the next day's show. Even the show's Twitter bio asks, "Please DVR a week of episodes and let us know what you think. ¡Gracias!"

Photo taken on the set of "Dan Le Batard is Highly Questionable," with Gonzalo Le Batard and Dan Le Batard. Credit: Joe Faraoni/ESPN

It's that last word in the Twitter bio, "¡Gracias!" that hints at some of the other reasons the show is unusual.

HISPANIC SHOWCASE: Le Batard's co-host and announcer is his father, a Cuban immigrant named Gonzalo (here's how the show starts, with the elder Le Batard saying, "Yesterday, on my son's TV show..." before a highlight is played) and features regular references to Latino/Hispanic culture, food, music - and occasional words in Spanish (an entire segment is called "¿Si o No?"). They will occasionally call up his mother, Lourdes, on the phone and get her take on stuff they've been discussing. Dan also refers regularly to "preguntas" (i.e., questions) from this viewers. On May 5, a Facebook post consisted of just this: "¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo!" All this on a set made to look like a Miami kitchen.

Outside of George Lopez's sitcom and talk show (both have been canceled, though the sitcom lives on in syndication), I've never seen anything like it on mainstream TV - and certainly nothing on the exclusively white and black world of mainstream sports TV (there is, of course, ESPN Deportes and lots of screams of "Gooooooooaaal" on Spanish-language soccer broadcasts). The only other show with similar Cuban flourishes might have been Ricky Ricardo's on "I Love Lucy," which my kids love on reruns (The elder Le Batard makes me think of an older, retired Ricky living in Miami).

YEAR-ROUND FATHER'S DAY TRIBUTE: All those are reasons for the show to stand out, but as I write this on Father's Day, it's the show's father-son relationship that really makes it memorable. The chemistry between Dan, who sounds like any "typical" sports guy on TV (though more excitable than most) and his heavily-accented "Papi" is terrific and the real reason to tune in. I DVR both "DLHQ" and "PTI" and try to watch it with my nine-year-old twins whenever I can.

What sports-loving son wouldn't love to do a TV show about sports with his own dad sitting right beside him? Looks like Dan has been able to do just that every day. Around the time the show first aired, Dan wrote about Gonzalo in a piece entitled "Small repayments of Dad's Giant Love":

I'm a head-over-heart guy, pretty even, and that shapes my view of sports, logical more than emotional. But what swept over me the day of our debut, amid the anxiety, caught me entirely off guard. It was a big day. And I was pretty scared. But then Dad walked in for his first day at the new office, guayabera slung over his shoulder. He was uncommonly happy, far less anxious and self-conscious than I was. And something melted away in me. He doesn't express himself very well. He would never say he was excited, but I could tell that he was. When I asked afterward if he had enjoyed himself, he said that what he enjoyed, what he always enjoys, is helping me.

Here are some recent comments I found on the show's Facebook Page:

From Joe Leonardi: "Love the show. My Dad came from Sicily and you and your dad's interaction reminds me of mine before my dad passed away."

From Nathan Harper: "My opinion best show on espn. Love papi and dan"

From Simon Levi: Can't stop watchin it lollll Papi=Next Miami Mayor

From Sergio Medina: "Papi is gansta!!!!!"

From Ron Rinaldi: "Papi = Never Not Funny"

I decided to ask some questions of Dan as well as the show's executive producer, Erik Rydholm (@ErikRydholm), who also supervises "PTI" and "Around the Horn" (and mentions in his Twitter bio that he is "son of Ralph & Jo"). I connected with them via SportsCenter anchor Kevin Negandhi (@KNegandhiESPN), who put me in touch with the show's publicist, Jay Jay Nesheim (@JayJayN_ESPN) via David Scott (@ESPNprScott), ESPN PR director (note all the network branding on those handles). Here are excerpts from the emailed replies.

QUESTIONS FOR DAN LE BATARD:

Q: How did the idea for the show come about?
A: We used to secretly tape phone calls of my father ranting and raving on the telephone for our radio show. He was crazed and unhinged and cartoonish about the local sports teams, and we don't agree on much of anything, so they were funny, and anyone with a father can understand that, no matter the language.

The original idea of the TV producers was to just have my father around the TV show to give it a Latin flair, an accent and have him as family framing. But then, inevitably, and by accident, my father morphed into a sitcom dad and the star, and I became the straight man because the show is far funnier and different with him.

What he brings you don't see on sports television. What I bring you see all over sports television. So the father-son dynamic was different, and we thought it'd be a way to reach people in the audience because just about anyone watching ESPN2 at 4:30 in the afternoon HAS to have sports passed down like an heirloom from father to son.

The hope is that people recognize some of their own father in Papi. But the original idea goes to Erik Rydholm and Matthew Kelliher, the TV producers, and Marc Hochman and Mike Ryan, the radio producers.

Q: Did son or dad need extra convincing?
A: No. It was a dream. It's a ridiculous opportunity. I can't believe I get to spend work days with my father and friends.

Credit: ESPN

Q: What's something you thought to yourself, "Gee, the producers would NEVER let us do that"- but they did anyway?
A: The producers know me. They are my friends. They know what is important to me. And they are really, really smart. The entire thing was built to protect/comfort/shield the insecurities of the host -- while occasionally mocking him, too.

Q: What are three things you've learned about your dad by doing this show?
A: He doesn't know much of anything about sports but thinks he knows everything, which makes him not unlike his son. He is very good at hip-hop lyrics. His marriage is healthier when my mother doesn't have to have him around all day.

Q: What do you think of Twitter and how it's used in the show?
A: It is a nice, intimate access for people who care. A good personal complement to what we do daily.

Q: Anything else my readers should know?
A: Just how profoundly thankful I am to ESPN and Rydholm and Kelliher for creating something Hispanic, Miami, familial and fun -- and for supporting it in an uncommon way.

QUESTIONS FOR ERIK RYDHOLM, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER:

Q: How's the show doing?
A: I'm proud of it. We've had very kind reviews. The leadership at ESPN seems very pleased. I want higher ratings, but I always want higher ratings.

Q: What's been the audience response?
A. We have some people who LOVE it, and some who think it's the worst thing that ESPN has ever done. We enjoy the former and enjoy annoying the latter.

Q: Anything stand out about the demographics of the audience (is it more diverse than other ESPN shows?)
A. Not enough data to make firm conclusions, but we certainly see a greater representation of Latinos and women in our Twitter comments than I see on the other shows I oversee ("PTI" and "Around the Horn").

Q: The shows seems to have more social media than most... How has that worked out?
A. It's really given added life to our interviews. We love the idea that they'll be out there for decades, because many of them are rather timeless.

Q: Anything else my readers should know?
Just how much we enjoy doing the show. And how appreciative we are that ESPN has taken the chance on doing something so different.

NO LUCK WITH PREGUNTAS FOR PAPI: I also had asked a question to be passed onto Papi, but he didn't get back to me in time for this post. No surprise, considering he's the real star of the show, and we all know how busy stars are.

MY FAMILY & SPORTS: Happy Father's Day, everyone - and especially, my dad, T.P. Sreenivasan (@Sreeniv) who taught me to play and love golf  (making my play and love tennis was the department of my mother, Lekha), and, conveniently, has his birthday today, too. Am also thinking of my father-in-law, K.V. Unnikrishnan, who, along with my mother-in-law, Jayashree, worked so hard over a 15-year period to make my wife, Roopa Unnikrishnan (@RoopaOnline) one of the world's top sports-rifle shooters (she's in the equivalent of India's sports hall of fame). Kids might naturally love sports, but parents need to nurture, encourage and occasionally cajole to keep that interest going. 

NOTE TO READERS: Please post your thoughts in the comments below or e-mail me or tweet me at@sree or #sreetips on Twitter. If you've been reading my posts here, you know that one of the things I am trying to do is learn what works and what doesn't on social media. It's such a fast-evolving, confusing world that I believe we can all learn together. Thanks for reading.

 

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