Andy Roddick is about to take on a new opponent: ESPN.
The retired U.S. tennis star has been hired as one of the co-hosts of Fox Sports Live, a three-hour news, opinion and highlight show that will air nightly on Fox Sports 1 between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. ET. The show is Fox Sports' challenge to SportsCenter and will debut when the network launches Aug. 17.
Fox Sports executives say viewers should think of Fox Sports Live as multiple shows inside a three-hour block. Roddick will join host Charissa Thompson, who will soon leave ESPN for Fox, on one side of the studio as part of a panel discussing the sports news of the day and interviewing newsmakers. Jay Onrait and Dan O'Toole, the popular hosts of TSN's late-night SportsCentre show, will appear on the other side of the studio as the primary highlight readers. Test shows for Fox Sports Live will start as early as June. Fox Sports plans to hire more panelists (likely former athletes) for the show in the near future.
The 30-year-old Roddick said he will appear on Fox Sports Live nightly between Monday and Friday, working either four or five nights depending on the week. Fox Sports executives initially contacted him a few weeks after he announced his retirement from tennis at the U.S. Open last August. Roddick told Fox Sports executives that he was not looking for a full-time job in television. But the two sides stayed in touch throughout the next couple of months, as Fox Sports executives shared their vision with Roddick for a competitor to ESPN's SportsCenter.
DEITSCH: Fox Sports Live vs. SportsCenter
"Throughout the interview process I was very honest," Roddick said. "I was the way I have always been: pretty direct and pretty opinionated. I think that's what they were looking for. I don't know if they were looking for a typical, run-of-the-mill type of show or someone with fabricated opinions."
The interview process heated up a couple of months ago as Roddick embarked on three in-person interviews with Fox Sports executives in Los Angeles and multiple phone interviews.
"It started with gauging interest on both sides and I don't know that I was in a hurry to rush into anything that wasn't a perfect opportunity in my mind," Roddick said. "It was a fascinating process for me. I really haven't had to earn my keep in a given job since I was 18 years old. Getting the gig is a start, but I am certainly prepared to put the work in and learn about this side of it, and try to prove my worth to the guys taking a shot with me."
What did Fox Sports want to hear from Roddick during the interview process? That Roddick was willing to work, according to Fox Sports executive vice president of studio production Scott Ackerson.
"It's a big job for the show," Ackerson said. "You are on three hours most nights talking about stuff that might be out of your comfort zone. I wanted to find out how hard he wanted to work and the indications I got was he is fully committed to this."
Roddick's previous work on a syndicated Fox Sports Radio show (with host Bobby Bones) proved to be a big selling point for both Roddick and Fox Sports executives. (Fox Sports said Roddick could also get involved with its radio division again.)
"That was a huge thing for me to get reps, to learn how a show clock works," Roddick said. "I didn't pretend to know anything about radio. I was lucky that Fox Sports gave me a chance to learn on the job."
Ackerson said he listened to Roddick on Fox Sports Radio and became convinced he could converse on multiple sports. After the interview process, Fox Sports formally offered Roddick the job more than a month ago. (He signed a multi-year deal.) Roddick said he and his actress-model wife, Brooklyn Decker, have leased a place in Los Angeles and will also maintain their home in Austin, Texas. Asked if Decker, a former Sports Illustrated Swimsuit cover model, has given him any advice on his new gig, Roddick laughed and said, "We discuss the logistics of our potential work decisions and how we deal with that on a personal level, but I don't get too involved in what she has going on and vice versa. We trust each other enough to get the job done. So I don't know that she'll be advising me on my day-to-day commentary on Fox Sports Live."
Ackerson described Roddick's role as being a part of "an intelligent discussion of athletes that can take any shape or form." Roddick said viewers should not expect him to merely blast athletes and coaching decisions.
"The last thing I am going to try to do is try to think I know more than someone who makes decisions as a head coach in the NFL," Roddick said. "I don't think I will be the guy questioning Bill Belichick's coaching decisions in the fourth quarter. I think that's stupidity. But I think I can give a decent look on the preparation side of athletes, the business side and maybe what they are thinking going into a big situation or moment."
Roddick still plays tennis occasionally and has an equity stake in World Team Tennis. (He'll be playing for the Springfield, Mo., franchise in July.) He said he'd be interested in an occasional one-off exhibition but his job with Fox Sports Live is his priority. He said he's not interested in commentating on tennis.
"If Andy does his homework, has intelligent stuff to say, and if he has a good personality and chemistry with the others on the set, he will be successful," Ackerson said. "If it doesn't happen that way, he won't be. But I would be flabbergasted if he doesn't have success. I think he's the right person at the right time for this show."
DEITSCH: What will air on Fox Sports 1 when it launches in August?