Behind The Scenes

SportsCenter anchors team for offbeat comedy via Both Sides digital series

What in the world would office etiquette, a sportscaster’s fashion sense, Ndamukong Suh’s temper tantrums and actor Donald Faison’s IMDB resume have to do with each other?

On the surface, they’re unrelated.

The trick to Both Sides Of The Ball, the ESPN.com series featuring SportsCenter anchors Jay Harris and Mike Hill, is linking such diverse topics in the course of an entertaining 3 minutes.

Both Sides emerged from an idea the duo had of turning their off-camera sports conversations – the kind sports fans have at barbershops, locker rooms and water coolers – into fodder for on-camera comedy.

“It’s behind the scenes. People wonder what we do when we’re not on television,” Harris said.

“We talk about sports, we talk about life.”

“We take a headline that happens during the week and come up with a different twist on it,” Hill said.

“It’s kind of like [being in] the barbershop, without all the hair on your neck,” Harris said.

In the episodes produced since August, Harris and Hill have talked about anything from Tom Brady’s fashion choices to boxing low blows to Tiger Woods being assaulted by a hot dog — and everything in between.

According to Ronnie Forchheimer, ESPN.com’s Senior Director of Digital Media and Video, Both Sides is “a great opportunity to extend the identity and brand of two popular SportsCenter anchors through the digital video platforms, and a chance to project Jay’s and Mike’s rapport and humor.”

The skits are mostly improvised on the spot, completed in 2 to 3 takes and taped at various venues across ESPN’s Bristol campus. Sometimes, the episodes incorporate special guests.

Harris, Hill, and producers/cameramen Jade Hoye and Steve Guyot allowed Front Row to sit in on a recent episode taped with actor Donald Faison.

He was visiting Bristol last month to promote his new sitcom The Exes, which airs Wednesday nights at 10:30 p.m. ET on TVLand.

In the video at the top of the post, you’ll see how the Both Sides team worked with Faison to come up the highly-charged three minutes that addressed everything from borrowing something from a colleague without asking to Suh’s tirades to Faison’s movie oeuvre.

In the video below that, the cast and crew talk about the making of the episode.

Faison, who also starred in the long-running sitcom Scrubs, marveled at Harris and Hill’s ability to improvise.

If the roles were reversed, “I could not do a SportsCenter cold,” Faison said. “There are too many sports that I don’t know anything about.”

Both Sides Of The Ball is a labor of love.

On the day of taping, Harris – who was up at 6:30 a.m., fit this episode in between a production meeting and writing for the 6 p.m. SportsCenter.

Hill had a similar schedule that also had to account for a doctor’s appointment and a three-hour night shift on his new ESPN Radio show.

Producers Hoye and Guyot also fit the Both Sides shooting into their already-busy schedules.

Working on a live, open set — in this case, ESPN’s Café’ annex, surrounded by employees going about their days –is energizing.

“It’s the most fun way to work. You never know what you’re going to get. [Hill and Harris] are very creative, they’re very spontaneous,” Hoye said.

“It seems to be well-received,” Harris said, referring to the social media response to the series.

Viewers “will let you know if it’s horrible,” Hill said.

“I don’t know if Jade has done a great job of editing things out” from viewer responses in the comments section.

Working off Hill’s suggestion, Harris turned to Hoye.

“Have you been trying to keep our feelings from being hurt?” Harris asked.

That sounds like it could be a plot for a future episode.

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