UPDATE: You can watch the premiere episode online now.
Collectively, their public persona is unapologetically a foursome of rubes from Prince George’s County, Maryland, who don’t know a wine glass from a water glass and who only recently learned that napkins come in cloth as well as paper. But as with almost anybody who has a public life as well as a private life, that’s only a half truth about the radio jocks known as the Sports Junkies: John “Cakes” Auville, Eric “E.B.” Bickel, John-Paul “J.P.” Flaim, and Jason “Lurch” Bishop. The other truth is that while they are local boys who made good in the competitive world of morning talk radio, who professionally thrive on their regular-guy-on-air patter, they are smart and savvy enough to also market themselves in a new medium: television. Their new weekly show, Table Manners, premieres tonight at 11 on Comcast SportsNet.
Monday night, on the eve of the show’s debut, the Junkies held a premiere party for fans and friends at the Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse, making it possibly the first time ever for a red-carpet television premiere in Arlington. But there were no klieg lights, no one called it a “gala,” no one got dressed up, and the overall mood was fun, intimate, and laid back. With four hours on the air each morning, the Junkies have a bond with listeners, who showed their loyalty by coming out 200-strong on a Monday night—and not just any Monday, but the day after the Super Bowl, when most sports fans are dragging.
While talking with Washington Redskins linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, a friend of the show, we wondered if Super Bowl Monday should be a national holiday, because, really, how productive are tired and hungover football fans? “That’s what we were saying last night. That’s what my wife said,” he replied.
Other guests included Tony Perkins and Dave Ross of Fox 5, Britt McHenry and Steve Cheveney of WJLA-TV, and a group of 106.7 colleagues, including Sky Kerstein, Chad Dukes, and Danny Rouhier.
The Junkies will need the loyal radio fans to be just as loyal to this new venture, which is making them both happy and anxious. “What’s not to like?” Bickel said about branching into television. “But I am beginning to feel the pressure.”
The Junkies will tell you that over the past decade or so they’ve been dabbling in television. There have been pop-ups on Fox 5 to talk sports with Perkins and Ross. They have cameras in their Lanham, Maryland, studio at 106.7 FM for online streaming. But Table Manners is a big step up: a full-blown half-hour commercial broadcast that is taped on a “set” at the Palm restaurant in Tysons Corner, Virginia. It’s a highly produced interview format in which the four friends—in fact, friends since high school—play at learning the rudiments of dining etiquette while having a conversation with a sports star. For the promo spots the hosts wore black tie and looked comfortable in the formalwear; maybe not James Bond as played by Daniel Craig, but possibly James Bond as played by Kid Rock.
The guest for their first episode is Jeremy Roenick, a hockey icon who scored 513 goals in 18 seasons with various NHL teams. In future episodes they will talk to Steve Largent, the football Hall of Famer and former Oklahoma congressman; Redskins legend John Riggins, also in the Hall of Fame; Walt Williams, who made a name for himself at the University of Maryland before almost a dozen seasons in the NBA; and Pierre Garçon, who just completed his first season of a five-year contract with the Redskins.
Each show features only one guest. They will shoot eight episodes in all—four are already in the can—and then see what the ratings determine about their future. “Comcast likes us,” said Auville. That’s no small thing.
The fate of the show was not the main topic at the premiere party, though. A good time was at hand. Some of the talk was about having a party the night after the Super Bowl, about how to keep from getting tired in a work week that requires a pre-dawn wake up and commute to work as well as midday hours at the Palm taping the new show. A few of them mentioned the value of naps, and Auville added, “Red Bull helps.” The party was on the early side; it wrapped up by 9, and the Junkies were home by 10. They hoped the fans who were there would enjoy the sneak peek at the first episode, making them the first audience to see the show. Later, in a direct message, Bickel said he was pleased. “People laughed at the right times. They seemed to enjoy it.” He referred to the evening as “a thrill, but def nerve racking.”