A year ago, ESPN2 took a gamble and premiered a different kind of program: Dan Le Batard is Highly Questionable, a half-hour sports talk-show set in a 1950s-inspired kitchen that looks, sounds, and feels like it came from a Cuban family sitcom.
The set up is simple -- a father and son talking about sports around a kitchen table with a single camera pointed at them, a fresh alternative to sleek multi-camera sports shows that dominate the air waves.
And here's the kicker.
The co-host is Gonzalo "Papi" Le Batard, a seventy-something Cuban exile who speaks his mind with a thick Cuban accent. He is both endearing and hilarious. For a sports network that has thrived on reaching its target audience – Type A white males obsessed with sports – the show's Hispanic flare has not disappointed, especially the catchy intro music.
Dan Le Batard is Highly Questionable is the brainchild of Erik Rydholm, executive producer of ESPN's hit show Pardon the Interruption. Rydholm had worked with Le Batard before when he invited the journalist to occasionally substitute on "PTI". He was a fan of Le Batard's Miami radio show, where occasionally, Le Batard plays secretly recorded phone conversations between himself and his father, which result in unfiltered frank conversations about sports. Rydholm, who had been tasked by John Skipper, ESPN's then head of content, and now president, to create original programming for ESPN2, jumped at the chance to bring Le Batard's show format to television.
The show comes at a time in which networks are seeking to gain a Hispanic audience, who now make up 16 percent of the TV-viewing public.
On a recent phone conversation, Rydholm, who is also DLHQ's executive producer, said reactions have been mixed: "It's been polarizing. Some people don't understand what we're doing, while there is an awesome embrace by some core viewers." Some fans of the show identify with the playful and loving on-screen relationship between father and son, and in the process are reminded of the bond that sports provides in their own family.
"It's rare to have a show that embraces heritage," said Rydholm, "It has to have family and that connection with viewers."
Dan Le Batard believes the show is a great opportunity for him to repay a debt to his father, who arrived in the U.S. at 16 from Cuba and worked as a factory manager to get ahead and provide for his family. "The sacrifices he made for us, the immigrant mentality that was ingrained in us, this is the beginning of me repaying a debt that will never be repaid," said Le Batard from the show's Hialeah studios in Miami.
And Papi's efforts clearly paid off. His other son is David Le Batard, aka Lebo , an internationally renowned artist known for his colorful murals.
DLHQ just celebrated its first anniversary this past September. Watch full episodes here.