Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Tribeca ’17: Mike and the Mad Dog

It just goes to show you can get nostalgic for anything, including the most meatheaded sports radio call-in show of all time. Of course, some of the sentimental feelings New Yorkers hold for WFAN’s Mike and the Mad Dog show probably stem from the fact the show coincided with some great New York sports seasons, including the Ranger’s 1994 Stanley Cup and the Yankees’ World Series victories of 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000. Longtime listeners can revisit their bombast and ill-informed commentary when Daniel H. Forer’s Mike and the Mad Dog airs on ESPN as part of the 30 for 30 series, following its world premiere at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.

Even though they became the voice of New York City sports fandom, both Mike Francesa and Chris “Mad Dog” Russo originally hailed from Long Island. Those living outside of New York might know Russo from his Letterman appearances. They were unlikely radio stars, but they were the first to really speak for the knucklehead fan in the street. What started as WFAN’s last ditch effort to save its failing all sports talk format, became widely imitated, most likely including “Bulldog” Briscoe on the Frasier TV show.

Forer chronicles their rise to prominence and their inevitable falling out. He also tries to parse the truth of their controversial broadcasts in the days immediately following the September 11th terrorist attacks, in which the co-hosts allegedly questioned Jewish Americans’ dual loyalties to Israel and America, but Forer was unable to find the conveniently missing tapes (many have tried before him).

Pop culture nostalgia is bizarrely enticing. When they were a team, Mike and the Mad Dog were part of the City’s white noise, but it just doesn’t seem right that they aren’t together anymore. Even if you weren’t a fan, Forer’s concise history of sports talk radio is totally fascinating. You really get a texture of the show from the participating talking heads, including former co-workers like Yankees commentator Suzyn Waldman and sports figures, such as NBA Commish David Stern and the slightly controversial Alex Rodriguez.

Nobody would accuse these guys of being geniuses, but they really were part of the fabric of New York. You really get a sense of that from Forer’s film. It takes New Yorkers back, in a good way. Highly recommended for sports fans and New York media consumers, Mike and the Mad Dog is scheduled to air in July, following its screenings at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.