For more than a decade, Joe Buck, the lead play-by-play announcer for Fox's baseball and football coverage, has narrated many of the biggest moments in sports. On June 15, the ubiquitous broadcaster kicked off a new phase in his career with the premiere of Joe Buck Live, a quarterly HBO show billed as part sports talk, part sketch comedy. Hours before his first live taping, Buck spoke to TIME about transitioning from the broadcast booth to the host's chair, the perks and pitfalls of the format and how he intended to coax Brett Favre into revealing his future plans.
This show is several years in the making. Can you talk a bit about its evolutionary process?
[HBO] always seemed to be interested in hiring me at some point, but they never really had a spot. After I did a pilot for a late-night show a few years ago, we had a good talk, and they told me they'd call when a spot opened up. I was pretty sure I was getting the big old brush-off, but then out of nowhere [Bob Costas, host of HBO's Costas Now, moved to the MLB Network], and they called me.
You've hired comedy writers for your staff, but you've also spoken of the need to avoid trying to be too funny. Is the humor element to the show something you're still trying to feel out?
People want to be entertained. I don't want to see people facedown in their salad. You don't have to be half of a Frost-Nixon interview every time.
Are you concerned at all that presenting a new face to the public one that's boisterous enough to satisfy cable-TV viewers could impact your reputation as a prime-time broadcaster?
A smarter guy might worry about that. I don't know that I qualify. I've been doing Fox since I was 25, and I'm in my 16th season with the network. I feel like I've put my time in there. I don't think this is going to detract from it.
How have you prepared to do this show live, knowing you're not going to get another crack at it for a couple of months?
I've thought about it nonstop for the last two months. I've been there and booked pretty much every guest we've gotten. I've made sure to do all the prep work that I can on the guests we're having.
To be honest, I think [the quarterly schedule] is great because every show can feel like an event. We can book the heck out of it and make the show something special every time. The downside is, you're right the theater's going to be empty tomorrow night. I have to settle in and make sure it's comfortable right away. There's no grace period.
Your roster of guests for the first show includes retired quarterback Brett Favre. Many people think Favre may use the appearance to indicate whether he plans to pursue a comeback. That's something I presume you'll ask about. What are you hoping he'll say?
I'll tell you this: he had every reason to cancel, and hasn't, which I'm thankful for. I think that says a lot about him. He and I have been texting each other like two kids in college. I'm going to give him every opportunity to say what his plans are, how his arm is, who he's talked to. I'm going to ask him every question that needs to be asked. I'm not going to pin him down and shine a light in his eyes and torture him until he answers questions, but I'm going to do my best.
Going forward, who are the guests you'd most like to land for the show?
I want to make sure we open up our doors to anybody who's worthwhile, who's newsworthy and who has something to say. It doesn't always have to be the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. It can be somebody in the political world, the comedians' world, even an average Joe who has made a difference or has some story to tell.
To what degree have you found that covering sporting events for a living has affected your appetite to consume sports as a fan?
It changes. I have a casual interest in the NBA. I'm a die-hard NHL fan. I can't get enough. I used to just live and die with college basketball and college football. At some point, you have to concentrate on what you're covering.
I grew up following my dad [legendary broadcaster Jack Buck] around. As a kid, I couldn't get enough of the ballpark. I couldn't get enough of traveling with him or being around a major-league team. It's always been kind of a part of my DNA. I don't know that I've ever looked at baseball like a purely casual fan. That's just realistic when you grow up with it putting food on your table, and with it taking your dad out of town.
In what other formats, beyond the broadcast booth, might we see you popping up in the future?
I think I've wised up to the notion of doing some sort of life or entertainment show or being predominantly a talk-show host. I got a chance to host the Late Late Show for two nights before they hired Craig Ferguson. I enjoyed it, but nothing can replace the thrill of calling an NFC championship game or a Super Bowl or a World Series. I wouldn't trade what I do for anything. I have it too good in my day job.
(Updated: During Favre's interview, the former Green Bay Packers quarterback acknowledged that he was "considering" a comeback and said a return to football with the Minnesota Vikings Green Bay's bitter divisional rival "makes perfect sense." Favre added that the decision would hinge on the strength of his throwing arm, on which he recently underwent surgery.)
(Buck's HBO debut was marred, however, by a bizarre performance from Artie Lange, a comedian featured on Howard Stern's radio show. During a panel discussion that also featured actor Paul Rudd and Jason Sudeikis of Saturday Night Live, Lange unleashed a string of ribald remarks and quipped that the segment would be Buck's last. HBO said the appearance "bordered on bad taste." Said Buck: "Live is live. Things were said at the end that I am not a fan of, but people can judge what Artie said however they want.")