NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The much-anticipated “Mike and the Mad Dog” entry in ESPN’s “30 for 30” documentary series premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 21 and later will be coming to a television near you, probably this summer.
But I was able to screen it this week to see whether there was any big news coming out of it (not really) and whether I am in it (yes, briefly).
So, is it good? Short answer: yes. There is little doubt fans will get a nostalgic kick out of it, and at an hour (including commercials) it moves efficiently through the history and impact Mike Francesa and Chris Russo had on sports talk radio.
The vintage audio and video clips are fun, and many of those there from the show’s creation through its triumphs and petty infighting bear witness to all that went down.
As director Daniel Forer told SI.com, his suggested (and clever) tag line for promotional ads for the program is, “What if I told you one of the most powerful teams in sports never played a game?”
Memorable moments include Francesa discussing the impact his less-than-privileged childhood had on him, including his father abandoning the family when he was a boy, and Russo talking about how seriously he considered a move to the morning drive time slot after Don Imus was fired in 2007.
The two also address perhaps the biggest lingering controversy of their 19-year partnership: Their comments about American Jews’ alleged loyalties to Israel the day after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Forer told SI.com, “Neither one shied away from answering it and their takes on it. They were both very direct. Mike was Mike. He maintained the position he has always maintained: There was nothing controversial and he doesn’t believe they offended anyone.
“Chris is a little more sensitive to it and does understand criticism of it. He was more forthright in sharing with us his opinion of what happened that day. I was very pleased both addressed it and neither was afraid to address it. I said nothing would be off the table and they accepted that.”
The show begins and ends at last year’s FrancesaCon, at which Russo appeared with Francesa, wrapping a tidy bow around their long and complicated relationship.
The show is full of A-list interview subjects, including John Mara, David Stern, Brian Cashman, Alex Rodriguez and Jim Nantz, as well as those close to the show such as Chris Carlin, Bob Gelb, Ian Eagle and John Minko. Francesa and Russo both sat with Forer for lengthy interviews.
By far the biggest question surrounding the show’s reception will be how it will play in Peoria . . . or anywhere else that is not the New York area.
The importance of Francesa and Russo in particular and WFAN in general in the history of sports talk radio is undeniable. But sports radio, when done right, is extremely local. These guys are either unknown or unimportant in large parts of the continent.
But that is the rest of America’s problem. “Mike and the Mad Dog” are ours here in the capital of the world, for better and worse, making this fast-paced look back difficult to resist.