The first night of any new talk show tends to stink. From the host's frayed nerves to the show grasping to find its rhythm, opening night is usually not a great indicator of how it will turn out.
And that's where Joe Buck is getting screwed.
His new Joe Buck Live debuts on HBO June 15 at 9 p.m. ET. But his second show isn't June 16. With the series only airing four times a year, Buck won't get to iron out the kinks until September.
“That's a problem,” he told me. “I thought about it when I was watching Fallon's first night or Conan's first Tonight Show. Whether it was Johnny Carson or whoever, they probably look back and say, 'I can't believe they let me do another show.' But I really feel like I have to walk out there with a semi-finished product. I can't have the 'we'll get 'em next time' mentality.”
Still, Buck has plenty going for him. He is backed by the HBO Sports team, which is known for sports programming that's as high-quality as there is. He has appeared on late-night shows such as Letterman and Conan in the past, as well as shooting a failed talk show pilot for Fox. And, of course, broadcasting runs through his veins. His late father Jack was an announcing legend; witness his unrivaled call of Kirby Puckett's 1991 World Series Game 6 winning home run, a perfectly understated, “And we'll see you tomorrow night.”
Buck talks with a decidedly humble tone perhaps foreign to many of his regular viewers as he preps for his new gig. “I'm anxious; you don't know how something new is going to turn out,” he says. “You can lay it all out on paper, have all these great dreams, but until you walk out and do it, you don't know.”
Despite the two comedy writers on staff, Buck will start his first show by introducing himself and his show to the audience, as opposed to going right into a joke-filled monologue. “That's not really what I do,” he acknowledges.
He'll then show a behind-the-scenes taped piece with New York Mets star David Wright, before bringing out a single guest for an interview, followed by a panel on the intersection of celebrity and sports. Next is a taped piece from Will Ferrell's Funny or Die, then a comedic roundtable.
But Buck is most focused on the interviews. “All the other stuff is fluff; the interview has to be central,” he says.
And as someone who is on-camera as much as he is knows, there will always be critics. He does not read the blogs as much as he used to.
“You learn as you get older how to take criticism and not let it cripple you, and try and move on,” he says.
And he would know about criticism. He has been a lightning rod in the past, whether for some commercial work he did for Budweiser or for his sometimes opinionated work on Fox. There is actually a Website called JoeBuckSucks.com, which is “dedicated to the hatred of Joe Buck.”
Personally, I think that's like a badge of honor. And Buck doesn't disagree.
“Sure it is. If you do what I do and people don't care one way or the other, you're not doing a good job,” he says.
As long as Buck tries to be himself as opposed to Bob Costas—or Bob Saget, for that matter—his show has a good shot.
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