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So What Do You Do, Pat O'Brien, Co-Host of Fox Sports Primetime?

'The [voicemail] scandal was the luckiest thing that ever happened to me'

By Richard Horgan - July 3, 2013
Just as we were speaking with Pat O'Brien for this very interview, the broadcast legend alerted his Fox Sports Radio publicist who was on the call that he was about to break some news. The man whose career has taken him from the heights of TV, radio and film told us he is planning a personal podcast all about drug and alcohol recovery issues. Although there's no official start date, it's a topic O'Brien is all too familiar with.

In 2005, The Insider anchor made front-page headlines when kinky voicemails he left for a woman were leaked to the Internet. He blamed the incident on his own drunken stupor, and a series of mea culpas and stint in rehab followed. In addition to the podcast, O'Brien also plans to address lessons from his recovery in a memoir, due in 2014.

"The scandal was the luckiest thing that ever happened to me, because I would have been dead," he said. "Honestly, I almost feel like I went to the wizard of Oz. The alcoholism grabbed me, and my house blew away and my friends and all that... Then they had this jungle of trees trying to kill me in poppy fields and kind of looking for the wizard of Oz when all along all I had to do was click my heels and go home. I think alcoholics don't realize that there is help. There is a way to click your heels and get back to a better, normal life."


Name: Pat O'Brien
Position: Co-host, FOX Sports Primetime featuring Pat O'Brien with Steve Hartman
Resume: Worked for CBS covering sports from 1981 to 1997 and also hosted its primetime variety show How'd You Do That?. Rose to greater prominence as anchor for Access Hollywood and The Insider and appeared in numerous movies and TV shows, like BASEketball, Murphy Brown, The Simpsons and Everybody Loves Raymond. Hosted various shows for major networks, including the 2000, 2002 and 2004 Olympics. Author of Talkin' Sports: A BS-er's Guide and a memoir, due in 2014. Also appears in the Funny or Die short O'Brien & Brian, which chronicles his adventures with his new manager.
Birthdate: February 14, 1948
Hometown: Sioux Falls, S.D.
Education: B.A. in political science from University of South Dakota and advanced study in economics from Johns Hopkins. Currently enrolled at UCLA for addiction studies.
Marital status: Divorced
Media idol: David Brinkley and Anderson Cooper
Favorite TV shows: Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Newsroom
Guilty pleasure: Two and a Half Men
Last book read: We Have Only This Life to Live: The Selected Essays of Jean-Paul Sartre, 19391975
Twitter Handle: @POBPATOBRIEN
If a reporter gets caught up in some sort of public scandal, what would your advice be about the best way to handle it and take responsibility?
I say this all the time: the best way to handle if you did something is to admit it. Cover-ups always worsen the crime. And we're talking about low-level scandals here, obviously, not murder or anything. I always say the three A's: admit, apologize, advance.

"I think alcoholics don't realize that there is help."

In other words, if you did something wrong, own up to it like I did. Be a man about it. I really didn't need to apologize to anyone but my family, but I did. And it worked out in a really great way. I took a couple of years off, got myself together. I've never felt better; my career is completely on track. I never really lost much career-wise and I'm still here. I talk to a lot of people in trouble -- politicians, celebrities -- they will call me and ask what to do. And that's what I tell them. Get in front of the first camera you can find and admit it if you did it. And apologize to somebody and move on.

You're coming up on three years with Fox Sports Radio. What are, so far, a couple of your favorite moments from the show and why?
What I love about this job is that I can go back and get all those people that I interviewed during those great years with CBS Sports. They all come on the show now and we reminisce... I had a personal relationship with each and every one. One of the things I hear from Fox Sports Radio listeners is, "We love your stories and we love you talking to your friends." So the best part of it, for me, has been that out of all these years that I did the Olympics and the NBA and the NCAA and the U.S. Open and all that television work, I can come back and make a radio show pretty entertaining. And I do drop a lot of names, and I do it for a reason: I was there. People say I'm a name dropper. I say, "Look would you rather read about this or hear the real story about this guy?" It's not name dropping when you were there. I was there; people were not.

Adult Swim announced recently its new show Hot Package, a spoof of entertainment news magazine shows, will air in the fall. You're a co-star on the show. What can people expect?
It's an interesting idea. It's a 15-minute show that's going to run about 10 times, and it's a take-off on the entertainment shows. And it's almost juvenile to the point of being ridiculous. But it's funny, and the fact that I'm there doing it is fun. I'm a big hero on Adult Swim, because I was the swearing reporter on Robot Chicken. I get to say f*ck and things like that. But Hot Package should be really entertaining for folks. On this program, I am -- as Jimmy Kimmel once called me -- the Walter Cronkite of crap. And in my book, I spell out what these entertainment shows did to pop culture -- they ruined it.


NEXT >> So What Do You Do, Jay Mohr, Comedian and Fox Sports Radio Host?


Can you tell us a little bit more about that part of your book?
Yeah. I was part of the invention of these entertainment shows. They went from being entertainment shows to freak shows. The problem is people will watch what you give them. And so these shows decided to instead of just talking about George Clooney and Brad Pitt and people like that, they end up finding the biggest freaks in the circus and portray them as news.

And then, the other thing I write about is we used -- and I was a willing participant; I made a lot of money doing it -- every celebrity event for something else. In other words, I'll make a scenario up. For example, Paris Jackson attempted suicide. The shows will find an event somewhere (a premiere, an opening, a cancer event), and they will pretend like they're covering the event, but all they want to do is get reaction to Paris Jackson attempting suicide. So they'll grab -- I'm making this up -- Michael Douglas on the red carpet, and they'll ask him how's the Liberace thing going and then, "Would you respond to Paris Jackson?" And when they show it, it's "Celebrities Come to Us to Respond About Paris Jackson!" It's madness; it's insanity, and I had to shower and drink a bottle of wine after each one of these. But I was, again, a willing participant.

What drove this change in entertainment news show coverage when you were there?
Not sure. But like, for example, I interviewed Larry Hagman about his career, and when it airs all it is about is alcoholism. And when you get George Carlin and talk about his brilliant life, when it airs all it is about is cocaine. I got Brian Wilson to sit down to talk about making Beach Boys music, but all they aired was that part about him going somewhat insane.

"I was part of the invention of these entertainment shows. They went from being entertainment shows to freak shows."

You know, people love to look at things about people saying these things happened to them. And that's what spiked the ratings. These shows are dying; they're kind of running out of topics: anorexia, suicide, plastic surgery...whether someone weighed 70 pounds or 1,000 pounds. They've exhausted all that stuff and have to come up with something new, but do they cover Hollywood? No. Twice a year, Emmys and Oscars. And even then they'll say, "By the way, three months ago, Paris Jackson attempted suicide. Have you ever thought about suicide?" Then they go and lead the show with, "Angelina Jolie Considers Suicide!"

But please put this in: I'm not bitter about it. My problems were not those shows. My problems were my problems -- I'm an alcoholic. I can walk out of here today and drop out of the planet I'm on. My problem is I had a disease of the brain, and I'm not blaming it on these shows. I was blessed to make millions of dollars, and I did it the right way and the best way. But my problem was all me, not them.

For those Mediabistro readers who are currently studying broadcast or sports journalism, what's your career advice to them, as someone who blazed the TV trail?
When I grew up and took the career path that I've had, there really were, like, only five people: Bob Costas, Matt Lauer, you can make your own list. Now there are hundreds. I envy the kids that come up today, because there are so many outlets now and blog opportunities. People used to laugh at blogs, but now they're quite good; they create media television opportunities.

And when I speak to students, I tell them, "Look, I know there's no jobs out there, but, if you look, there are." You have to get in the door someplace and the Internet is the best way. I also say to kids, "No matter where you studied -- Yale, NYU -- just get your foot in the door somewhere. Work for free; show up every day; do your work." Because what happens in this industry is they'll eat you alive if you're not good. The bottom line is if you're good you'll advance; if you're not, go on to something else. It's as simple as that.

Richard Horgan is co-editor of FishbowlNY.


NEXT >> So What Do You Do, Jay Mohr, Comedian and Fox Sports Radio Host?

© Mediabistro Inc. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The foregoing is the sole property of WebMediaBrands Inc. The opinions and views expressed in the interviews and/or commentaries are solely those of the participants and are not necessarily the views of WebMediaBrands Inc., its affiliates or subsidiary companies.



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