WASHINGTON (CBSDC) – In the last few years, the Washington, D.C. sports scene has become a virtual talent pool, from which rising star after rising star have launched themselves to national network gigs.
One of the more recent super-talents to get scooped up is Dan Hellie, previously of local NBC affiliate WRC-TV, who answered the call from the NFL Network last summer — landing a dream job hosting NFL Total Access in time for the 2013 NFL season (airs Mon-Sat, 8 p.m. to 9 p.m.).
Hellie checked in with 106.7 The Fan’s Grant and Danny on Friday, and walked them through a typical day in the life of an NFL Network host, which, for anyone who obsesses over the NFL, could better be described as the high life.
“Luckily, I can walk down from my house where I’m sitting right now at the Marine Street Cafe and look at the Pacific Ocean in Catalina, and prepare for work,” Hellie said.
“And I actually head in around 10:30 or 11, we have a show meeting at noon, and we start taping a couple of segments early — whether it’s satellite interviews, had Ken Whisenhunt on a couple of weeks ago, and this week our in-studio guests are Roddy White and T. Sizzle [Terrell Suggs], which has been a lot of fun — and so we tape the show at 5 o’clock out here/8 o’clock Eastern and we just have a lot of different segments.”
Hellie has to be in command of the room at all times, and after hearing him describe how he has adjusted (with one season now under his belt), he really seems to understand his role.
In a business in which achieving ratings success is rarely a perfect science, you can be certain, having a clearly defined vision of one’s role is the only proven method to delivering a consistent product, and hence, finding repeated success.
“The analysts, I think, really appreciate sometimes when you can stay out of the way,” Hellie explained. “There are a lot of guys who want to say, ‘This is what I know,’ and prove every time they open their mouth they’re the smartest guy in the room. And I think my role is to literally be, you know, a facilitator, and a John Stockton, and let those guys take the shot, and every now and then I’ll drop a couple of nuggets and knowledge, but it’s there show. People are watching for them.”
On any given day, Hellie mixes it up with former NFL stars, the likes of which the younger generation of fans likely grew up watching on Sundays. Regular analysts on Total Access, as he explained, consist of Warren Sapp, Willie McGinest, Heath Evans and Darren Sharper, for instance.
One constant that holds true about this business — when sports meets news — at almost every level, is former athletes can bring with them larger-than-life personalities, to put it lightly, and egos, to put it more honestly. This isn’t even a knock against them, but rather a trait that seems inherent in most who have attained a high-level of success in their athletic careers, which often times carries over into future endeavors.
Managing such an ego (what’s more, many of them), can be a full-time job in itself. It’s a delicate balance of pulling and prodding, that’s not unlike the role of a professional puppeteer; but the puppets are real, and tug back with the force of a guy who can bench 500 pounds.
Needless to say, Hellie’s role at NFL Network requires being able to finesse such an ego on (quite literally, as you’ll read shortly) a moment’s notice. In these moments, he falls back on his reflexes, which he fine-tuned over years of working in the moment on live television.
Hellie recounted one particularly tense situation:
“We had a guy who was a future Hall of Famer on, and I was introducing him as a future Hall of Famer, and we had another guy on who had won his fair share of Super Bowls,” Hellie said.
“And about TEN (emphasis mine) seconds before we went on the air, he’s like, ‘Dan, how come you always introduce him as a ‘future Hall of Famer’ and you just introduce me and the other guys as Super Bowl winners? What’s up with that?’
“And I’m hearing ‘Five … Four … Three … Two …’ and I’m like, holy cow, how am I gonna introduce him this time, this is crazy. I was beside myself. I’m like, ‘He’s gonna be so pissed when we come on the air.’ And I think, okay, ‘And three of the very best to every play their positions…’
“And afterwards, naturally, I was like ‘Dude, why did you do that five seconds before we went on the air?’
“He goes, ‘Oh man, I was just messing with you.’
“He wasn’t messing with me at all. He was dead serious.”
We here in D.C. know what we lost in Dan Hellie.
But we still have the good fortune of sharing his immense talent and energy with the rest of the country, as he dishes it off every day, to the heroes we watched every Sunday.
Listen to the full interview in the clip above.