Watch Out, ESPN; Here Comes the ‘Onion SportsDome’

Bristol’s Worldwide Leader in Sports is clearly in the crosshairs of a wickedly funny parody starting next week on Comedy Central.

“Onion SportsDome” from the satirical newspaper that became a web hit, takes plenty of potshots at the bloated world of sports, but its very essence is its urgent “SportsCenter” format, shooting daggers at ESPN’s flagship show.

“The show will seduce you with the conventions of modern sports coverage,” says Kent Alterman, executive vice  president of comedy central programming & development told reporters at the TV Critics winter press tour Wednesday. “Like sexy graphics, overblown sound effects, insight from former players, coaches, and analysts, insight from pretend former players, coaches, and analysts, and lots of theme music, heavy on bell tones and driven by relentless pulsing guitar riffs.”

And yes ESPN instantly springs to mind in the format of the densely-packed 10-episode satirical series, one of two slick shows starting from the Onion this month (the other, “Onion News Network” starts Jan. 21 on IFC).

“The thing that is really inspiring about ESPN as a kind of taking-off point was their kind of faceless army of rotating anchors, that just kind of seemingly get like switched out and inserted into chairs like robots, or something like that,” says Will Graham, the executive producer behind both Onion shows. You’re like, ‘oh, that’s that guy, or that other
– those other four guys.’ ”

The inspiration of the show is clear, just as its possiblities are endless.

“We have eight TVs in our
office playing every different ESPN channel,” Graham says.

“There are a dozen ESPNs on anyway,”  says Jack Kukoda, the show’s head writer. “So it’s hard to miss them. If you just flip through, you’re going see them.”

It’s such a close visual match to “SportsCenter” in style and pace, some viewers flipping through may be initially confused.

“Only in bars when your sound is down, then you won’t be able to tell,” says Matt Walton, who plays one of the two anchors, Alex Reiser. “But once you are hearing what we are saying, I think you will know. There’s a big difference.”

“We definitely encourage people to mistake it for the real thing,”Graham says. “And we’re hoping to just eventually replace “SportsCenter.”

More seriously, he says, “I think we really just see ESPN as
a competitor. If that makes sense. So we are thinking like how can we make our graphics swooshier, and more explosive then theirs, and how can we make our set bright and get more primary colors into it.”

“Shout louder,” says Kukoda. “More people shouting

But Graham adds, “I think ESPN is definitely one of our taking-off points, but it’s really meant to be [a look at] the whole kind of bizarre, cultish, money-laden world of sports. But about ESPN specifically, one thing we are very excited about is we have a joke called the pile-on, which is like a kind of analysis segment where it’s one analyst versus 15 analysts yelling at him, which seems like a good kind of taking-off point for ESPN.”

However closely it is based on the product from Bristol, they don’t expect any legal ramifications, at least.

“I don’t think that we’ve heard directly from them,” Graham says. “I think we were hoping that by now, you know, ESPN would steal a bunch of our jokes, that kind of thing.”

“Onion SportsDome” starts Tuesday at 10:30 p.m. on Comedy Central.

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