Curt Menefee: Chemistry the Key to FOX NFL Sunday’s Pregame Show Success
LBS had the pleasure of speaking with Curt Menefee, the host of the FOX NFL Sunday pregame show, recently. We talked about what makes the pregame show so successful, and what makes football shows work. He also gave us a behind-the-scenes look at the show and its hosts. Our conversation follows.
LBS: When you were hired for the pregame show to replace James Brown, what were your thoughts then and what are your thoughts now?
Menefee: Being 100% honest, I never looked at it that I was hired to replace James Brown. I was hired to be Curt Menefee. There’s always an opening somewhere, and I was hired to be me, not to replace someone. So that was my approach from day one — to try and fit in with the unit that was there, and to be the perfect teammate to make the team successful.
Going into it, obviously with James Brown having been there before, and knowing JB, I talked to him and he was helpful giving me some insight with what they were looking for. There was a relationship that helped me along, but I never looked at it that I was replacing him. I viewed it that I was hired for a great gig and that I had to do what I needed to do.
LBS: The pregame show has had a lot of success over the years. In your eyes, what goes into making a successful pregame show?
Menefee: What makes ours a successful pregame show is probably a better question, because I think it’s different for every show. It depends on what your goals are and the team that you have. David Hill, who is the CEO of FOX Sports, is the guy who put all of us together, and I think he’s done a great job of understanding the kind of guys that will work together as a unit. I think that’s what makes our show work.
When you look at other shows, I can’t really comment about how they put it together, but I can tell you that we have a group of guys who truly are friends, and I genuinely mean that. We spend time in the offseason visiting each other. My girlfriend and I have been to Howie [Long] and his wife’s place, we all go to Jimmy [Johnson’s] place in the summer, Michael [Strahan] and I live two blocks apart, and I go play golf with Terry [Bradshaw], and we all watch college football together every Saturday.
When we sit down in front of those cameras on Sunday, it’s not five guys who took separate limos there and just showed up, and now we’re going to pretend we like each other and we’re going to joke around. We’re five guys who are genuinely friends, who have dinner together, who talk during the week, and we’re sitting there and you turn the cameras on, and we’re talking football. It really is the same show that it is the rest of the week without the cameras.
LBS: A lot of the different networks have many former coaches and players involved in their pregame shows. Do you think there is a maximum amount of people that should be involved in a pregame show?
Menefee: I don’t know if there’s a maximum — once again it goes back to chemistry. I think there’s probably a maximum number of people that looks good on a television set. I think probably five is about it. I think once you get to six or seven people on a set, it looks awkward for a viewer. It also makes it hard to get in and make a comment or valid point without one guy trying to one-up another because they feel they need to make their comment stand out. So they can get into trouble that way by having too many.
You look at our show, we have five guys on the set, and we have people in other roles. We have Jay Glazer, Frank Caliendo, and then Pam Oliver does features. Sometimes we’ll have Troy Aikman or John Lynch doing things, so you can have other parts or elements.
LBS: After Michael Strahan retired he was added to the show. How did that come about?
Menefee: I think it goes back to when there were four guys on the set. On their bye week, some players would visit on the set. Michael, over the years, did it numerous times, so we did get a chance to see how he worked in that dynamic. We saw his insight, his personality, and it just kind of stood out right away.
I’ve known Michael since 1995 when I was a local guy in New York and he was playing with the Giants, so my chemistry with him was natural. I remember thinking 10 years ago that he could do anything in television he wanted. His personality — he’s got that dynamic personality, he’s got the smile, the gap teeth works for him perfectly — there’s something about Michael that makes everyone love him.
I think that he’s a lovable, likable guy, and I think the audience accepted him as another member of the show.
LBS: A video came out recently that showed Michael reacting when the Giants pulled off the win over the Patriots. He was really celebrating like he still feels really strong ties to the team and the players. What’s it like watching games with these guys who have strong ties to the franchises that they played or coached for?
Menefee: Yeah, if you think that after 15 years as a Giant, that he’s not going to be partial to them, you’re nuts. Howie has allegiance to the Raiders the rest of his life, Terry with the Steelers. I think it’s absolutely natural. Michael’s standpoint is that there are still a lot of guys on the team that he played with, that he still talks with, and sees when he’s in New York. So I think that’s part of it.
I do think that one of the things that got lost when we were showing that is that Michael was celebrating picking the Giants as an upset in the pregame show. It was as much about that as anything. That’s what you’ll be surprised at.
Each and every week, [our analysts] will pick four games, and they are hanging on every single game, wanting to be right with their picks, because they know people will give them a hard time for missing on a pick more than anything else. So he was thrilled by being the only one to get the upset pick right, in addition to it being his former team.
LBS: The pregame show is very influential and so many people watch it including the family and friends of players. How frequently do you hear from players and coaches about things that are said on the show, and what kind of reaction do you get?
Menefee: It’s not infrequent. We talk to people to get our information. So every week you’re calling people and you will hear about something on the set someone said, or you said, both positively and negatively. But it hasn’t been an issue because when you mess up, you mess up. And if you deal with people on a regular basis, and you’re fair and honest with them, I think people can respect you even if they disagree with you.
If you continue that relationship, and continue to call those people, and continue to show your face around those facilities, I think they can respect you. It’s when you throw jabs at people and you disappear and you never talk to them, or have a chance for them to respond, that’s when people lose respect for you. As long as you are still willing to listen and talk, even if your opinions are different, guys are professionals and they understand and they have no problem with that.
LBS: I know Jay Glazer adds a lot to the pregame show because he has unique information through his reporting. How critical is he and some of his scoops to the show?
Menefee: I think that Jay is as big a part of our show as anything else. Everybody has their information guy, their insider. I will take Jay Glazer against three of anybody else — combine them. They don’t break the scoops that Jay breaks. They don’t have the information that Jay has. And people rely on that, not just for the gossip aspect of it, but for the injury aspect of it. He’s getting it directly from the coaches and players, not from the PR guys who are trying to mislead you.
Everybody around this league, all the information guys have ties, but no one has the relationships that Jay Glazer has. I think he is vital to our show, I think he is critical to the success of our show, and I think it would be a whole different dynamic were he not a part of it.
LBS: What was the time you were most impressed with a scoop that he had?
Menefee: When he got the tape of the New England Patriots [filming coaches], that impressed me more than anything else. I’ve had conversations with Roger Goodell about this, and he doesn’t understand where Jay got this from, and they launched an investigation to try and figure it out because they were not happy about it. That impressed me more than anything else.
It’s one thing to get information over the phone, but to actually have the evidence and the videotape to show it, is a whole different animal. To be able to put it on national television, and then have the league office not even know how you got it, nothing impressed me more than that.
Jay double-checks his sources like you wouldn’t believe. He says he puts out 3% of what he knows. It’s very little. You’d be stunned at what he knows.
LBS: What do you envision for the future for the FOX pregame show?
Menefee: I don’t envision any changes. Things are going great now. I think the chemistry is perfect, I think the bosses seem to be happy, and the ratings are doing well, why would you change something that’s successful? I can’t imagine anything being any different between now and the day that someday Jimmy retires. Jimmy is approaching 68 years old and someday he’ll retire, but hopefully it’s not for another 10-15 years. He enjoys doing this and says he’s going to keep doing this as long as he’s having fun, and he seems to be having fun.