Everything that seems routine at one point was new. Mike and the Mad Dog the new ESPN 30 for 30 film from director Daniel H. Forer premieres on ESPN Thursday July 13th at 8pm. It chronicles the rise and eventual separation of two of the most popular pioneers in sports talk radio with not nearly enough depth or insight.

In the mid-1980s, the concept of Sports Talk Radio was just a dream of a few program directors. Sports talk existed over the airwaves, but it was typically one show in a market or a national radio host trying to do a catch-all program for syndication.

In 1987, WFAN in New York decides to go 24-hour sports, all-day every day. They launch with a host of programs and none are very successful at first. The one that does catch on a little bit is a show called “Mike and the Mad Dog”.

This show paired two long island guys with wildly different backgrounds. Mike Francesa came from a working-class background with a tough and stern outlook on sports and the radio. Chris Russo is from the more upscale part of long island and brings and wild and manic voice to the airwaves.

Though they barely met before the show went on the air, Mike and Mad Dog spend the next two decades rising to the very top of the New York sports radio market. Along the way, they weather several controversies, conflicts and internal struggles.

Mike and the Mad Dog does not offer much insight into the story of two men who essentially created not only sports talk radio but contributed to the current media culture of two very opinionated people yelling at each other on the air. Instead, it just sort of plays out like a fifty-minute oral history of the facts of their being on the air together – how it started, how they became popular and how they went their separate ways.

It’s strange to see this from the 30 for 30 label: Its films excel in revisiting stories that most have forgotten and providing compelling insights into why these stories are important and what makes them unique. The Mike and the Mad Dog story is ripe for this kind of examination. It would have been very interesting to look at their influence on the cultural landscape or dive deeper into just how popular and influential they were in their prime.

We never get any of that from this film; however. Instead, it plays like something of a fan’s account of his favorite radio show with some exclusive interviews phoned in. None of the interviews ever really go beyond either a factual accounting of the show or a third-party praising the show. It’s disappointing to see an account of something so influential and popular never really explore the depths of either its influence or popularity.

Mike and the Mad Dog is a fun enough watch for those fascinated by sports talk radio and with these personalities, but there’s not enough substance to make it worthwhile.

Kind of like drive-time radio.

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