Earlier this week a friend of mine posted a message on Facebook about Donald Trump’s personal doctor, Harold Bornstein. His post read in part, “He’s like Newman on Seinfeld. He’s not in every episode, but when he is, it’s lots of fun and the set is electric.” My friend in this case is morning show consultant Steve Reynolds. He was using Dr. Bornstein as an example to his clients of how important casting the right secondary characters can be to a show’s success.
His point is absolutely correct. What would Seinfeld be without Newman? What about 30 Rock without Dr. Spaceman or Golden Girls without Stan? None of those characters show up in the opening credits, but when they do show up, things are just better somehow.
How does that relate to sports radio? What type of casting does our format do? I mean, it’s not like Mason and Ireland have a wacky neighbor that swings by ESPN Los Angeles when he’s trying to hide from an ex-girlfriend. So then how does a sports radio show create what we will call The Newman Element?
Think of regular guests as your show’s secondary characters. You don’t have them on every segment. They probably aren’t on everyday either, but your audience can always expect that they will be back. A good example of that kind of relationship is the one the Dan Le Batard Show has with Greg Cote. He isn’t on the show everyday, but when he is, there is just something about the room and the dynamics that is different. It’s an energy that, as a regular listener, I can feel through the speakers.
Guests like that don’t necessarily have to be funny. It helps of course. They just have to make the show better when they’re on. I have written about this a lot, but will repeat it again for the sake of this column. It is always better to find someone with less notoriety that delivers better content than it is to grab a big name for regular appearances simply because they are a big name.
When you’re looking for those guests, be open-minded. Think of it more like a speed-dating exercise than Tinder. Don’t just say no out of hand. It’s okay to test the waters with a guest once or twice before committing to them making regular appearances on your show.
Newman wasn’t introduced until the second season of Seinfeld, and even then it was only as a voice from off-screen. Wayne Knight didn’t show up as the physical embodiment of the character until season 3. My point is you can’t always create these kinds of characters. In some cases, you have to bring them back over and over again and let a rapport develop. Listeners can’t be told what to think or who to like. That requires work on the part of everyone involved to establish a relationship between them and these regular guests and recurring characters.
A recurring character is only worth investing in if they fit your show’s needs. Let’s use former college football coach and current CBS Sports analyst Rick Neuheisel as an example here. He goes on the Dan Patrick Show a lot during the football season. He shows off his knowledge, but he brings his guitar and writes parody songs about the college football landscape. There is a silliness that is expected of him with DP’s audience. When Rick is on with Paul Finebaum though, he is very straight forward. He is still jovial, but Rick recognizes that Paul’s listeners are there for Rick’s SEC football knowledge. So, that is what he provides.
The Newman Element is a great thing for any show to have, but Newman doesn’t work if he isn’t playing off Jerry or Kramer. Let’s go back to the Golden Girls example, because it is the greatest show in the history of television in my opinion.
Why does Stan Zbornack exist? He’s funny. His appearances are enjoyable, but none of that is true because we love Stan. His appearances are enjoyable because of the way he interacts with Dorothy and Sophia. We like Stan because Sophia hates Stan, and Sophia is at her best when she is being mean to another Golden Girls character.
Remember that your listeners come to your show for you. They want to hear your style of radio. So when you’re looking for those regular guests and recurring bits and characters, make sure they fit with your overall vibe. If they don’t, they aren’t meeting your listeners’ needs, and if they aren’t meeting your listeners’ needs, your listeners have no reason to get attached to them.