Antonio Brown? Punching refs? Mitch McGary going all 420? You’re on blast with Zach and his TBS web series “Out of Control Athletes of the Week.”
The following was deleted from the final printing of ESPN: Those Guys Have all the Fun. It is available as part of an online-bonus section. *
Around 2004, ESPN ventured into the world of reality TV for the first time. The project was DREAM JOB – A sort of an American Idol – like search for the most talented sports broadcaster in the country not on ESPN. The prize was incredible: a year-long contract to appear on SportsCenter as an anchor. Most of the current anchors hated the idea.
Fuck Dream Job. I mean, seriously. Here we were, legitimate journalists who had braved the world of sports, from high school to division 3 Hockey – and these idiots made it through in 2 weeks what it took us our entire lives to accomplish. I was not a supporter of the show.
I left ESPN by then, but I was so upset by this bullshit contest, I would have taken my job back just to pummel the snot out of whoever won it.
I was sitting in my cubicle when they gave the final four contestants a tour of the Bristol compound. That prick with the shaggy hair and the beard came by my desk and commented on my red Swingline stapler, saying it was a reference to the film Office Space. I ignored him, and he quoted the film by saying “Somebody’s got a case of the Mondays.” Recognizing that as a brilliant catch phrase, I immediately stole it and used it on the 11:00 SportsCenter when Allen Iverson went 2 for 19 from the field. It became one of my calling cards.
The “Prick with shaggy hair” turned out to be memorable contestant Zachariah Selwyn, a 28-year-old actor and musician from Los Angeles. Arriving to the contest with a long beard, 70’s leisure suit and bushel of curly hair, he was anything but what ESPN had ever considered for an on-camera position. Problem was, he was also the front-runner to win the contest.
At the time, I was in a band, had just done a film as an actor and thought my music career was about to take off – so I was a bit reluctant to want to suddenly uproot and move to Bristol to talk sports 24/7 – I had gone to the open audition hungover, after seeing a “Dream Job” crawl advertisement on the TV at Ye Rustic Inn on a random Tuesday night. But, I had majored in Broadcast Journalism at USC and had just spent 7 years emceeing Bar Mitzvahs and weddings in L.A. so I was somewhat seasoned in presentation – but The Dream Job audition was sort of a throwaway thing i did as a laugh. When I started making it past certain rounds, I started to get excited about the possibility of making the final 200, then the final 10 and then it became a mission to win the entire thing.
That kid had talent, but he was a Kilborn-type. He wanted to be an actor, a rapper? who knows – All I remember was that he knew how to drink like an ESPN anchor, which is 80% of the job requirement.
I met Zach in the top ten and we hit it off immediately. We had similar comedy backgrounds and we certainly knew how to party. But the night before the show taped, I would be in my room studying hockey stats, NCAA basketball players, whatever. Zach never did that – his way of gathering information was to go to the Mustang Sally’s sports bar across from the hotel and drink with the sports fans. He would have a beer with a stranger, talk the NCAA tournament and come in the next day and kill it.
One night I won $100 off of Nick betting that I wouldn’t pee in the pop-a-shot at Dave and Busters. As a result of that, I am never allowed in Dave and Buster’s again.
I had a fun time doing the show, but the qualifications were just ridiculous. And of course, I went on PTI after cutting Zach and admitted it was a mistake. I had received more emails from that decision than any other in my career. The fans were pissed and I made a mistake. Oh well, Zach and I kept in touch for awhile and he bought my books, so that was a sweet deal on my part.
I had watched Zach from the beginning of the auditions. He was a quick study and a great personality. Ultimately, he was exactly the kind of guy who would be bigger than the brand. I figured he eventually might work in a Kenny Mayne- like way for us but he was so busy with his weird rap-country band, I didn’t think he had the commitment level we needed at the time.
Later that year, ESPN had Zach host Around the Horn during the NBA Finals. He had cleaned up his image by then, but as only the third host of the show ever, he had trouble adjusting to the rapid-fire movement of the show. He also took a sarcastic approach to the show which ultimately did not work.
I hated him. When we were discussing the greatest rivalries in sports, Woody Paige or Cowlishaw would present arguments for Yankees – Red Sox, Michigan – Ohio State? Zach would mute them and say “Guys, you’re all wrong. It’s Pete Weber vs. Walter Ray Williams in professional bowling…” That stuff didn’t go over well… Plus. I still wanted the hosting job.
The eventual winner of Dream Job was 22-year-old Chicago resident Mike Hall. He eventually went to anchor ESPNU and used his new found fame to bed every North Carolina co-ed who recognized him around campus.
Selwyn was awarded another ESPN pilot in 2005 – called Holla Back, which he co-hosted with BET personality Free. John Walsh and Selwyn hit it off, but the show, which was based in Times Square – like MTV’s Total Request Live, never saw the light of day. Dream Job went on to have one more season of unknowns, and a season with athletes – but the declining ratings made it the last reality show the network has attempted.
The show changed all of our lives… Nick, Mike, Aaron Levine, Casey Stern – I went to a Yankees game that summer and had the NYPD escorting me through the crowd. They upgraded my family from the upper deck to a box seat – and then two off-duty cops and I got hammered during a rain delay. I didn’t pay for anything for a period of about a year in New York. I felt like Joe Namath or something. Although I have yet to try and make out with Suzy Kolber.
*Excerpted from ESPN: THOSE GUYS HAVE ALL THE FUN (uncut edition) by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales. Not really. Zach wrote all of this.