Working in TV isn’t as easy as one would think. Sure, there’s fame and attention and glamor and (at many levels) money. But there’s also stuff like this. And, well, show cancellations.
Just ask Katie Nolan.
Until a couple of months ago, Katie was one of the hosts of Crowd Goes Wild, FS1′s attempt to reincarnate the spirit of the old Best Damned Sports Show. And you know what? It was good. Flawed? Sure. Inconsistent? A bit. But, more often than not, the program featured an intriguing panel (One word: Regis) and some cool guests (One word: Nas). I appeared on Crowd Goes Wild while promoting Showtime, and the experience was terrific. Again, did it need some tinkering? Yes. But what new endeavor doesn’t?
Then, before FS1 gave it a real chance to succeed, the program was killed.
What didn’t die (I’m convinced) is the rise of Nolan, a smart, savvy, informed personality who knows her stuff. I brought Katie into Quazland because her rise fascinates me—how does someone in her mid-20s jump from obscurity to minor web fame to major web fame to a pretty sweet TV gig? The answers follow.
Still under contract with Fox, Katie hosts a regular web series, No Filter, that’s one of my favorites. She’s also a prolific Tweeter and one helluva interview.
Katie Nolan, welcome to the Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN: Katie, two seconds ago I Googled your name—and the fourth listed etry was something from collegespun.com, listing you as No. 3 on its hot 50. I wonder how—as an up-and-coming sports media personality—that makes you feel? Annoyed? Flattered? Pissed? Do you think women on sports television can ever escape having looks be part of the overall judging pattern?
KATIE NOLAN: “Pissed” would be irrational, right? At the end of the day, being the “hottest” is a compliment. Is it what I want people to take away from what I do? Not at all. But I can’t be angry if someone wants to tell me they think I’m pretty. I guess I’d say I’m flattered and then I move on from it. The real danger in that stuff is when you start to believe it defines your worth.
I think women are always going to be judged, at least in part, by the way we look. Is it annoying that there aren’t lists that rank male sports personalities by their hotness? Sure. But it would be a waste of energy to crusade against people who want to talk about “hotness.” Sports media is an industry that predominantly caters to a male audience, and when you put a woman in front of a group of men, it’s instinctual for them to ask “would I procreate with her?” That’s human-nature-caveman stuff; you can’t control that. But if that’s where their thought process stops, then I pity them. There are a lot of women in sports media doing some incredible things right now. If all you see is a hot chick, then you’re that little kid from ‘The Polar Express’ who thinks his bell is broken.
J.P.: You were on a FS1 show—Crowd Goes Wild—that recently got cancelled. Maybe this is an obvious question, but how did you feel when word officially came down? Who told you? And what do you think went wrong?
K.N.: We (the panel) found out after our last show of the week. We walked off set and our three producers were sitting in our dressing rooms, and we just knew. It had been talked about for a few weeks that it was a possibility, so no one fell to their knees and cursed the television gods, but it was sad. Mainly because it meant we only had two weeks left together instead of the two months until the end of the season that we thought we had. That was the toughest part.
I think we all went into CGW with the mindset that we were trying something crazy and it could either go well or go horribly. We were a brand new concept on a brand new network, and where we could have benefited from some wiggle room or time to grow, there just wasn’t any. It felt like going through puberty with a shot clock—”Here are all these new and crazy things that don’t make any sense to you yet, and if you don’t figure them out RIGHT NOW you’ll lose your chance forever.” There were days we wrapped and looked at each other like, “Wow … What was that?” But there were others where we felt like we made something really unique.
We also had every possible variable present, which made it hard some days. Sports meets entertainment, with a legendary host in his 80s, plus five panelists from all over the place (three of whom have no TV experience), with a live studio audience, and games, and humor, but also sometimes a news agenda, and you’re on at 5 pm (2 pm pacific). Change or remove any one of those challenges and you’ve still got a tough task on your hands. But ultimately, just when we started to figure out what was working and what wasn’t, it was too late.
Crowd Goes Wild may not have been everyone’s cup of tea, but I still strongly believe there’s a need for a show like it. People might not realize it yet, but they will when they see it. We’re getting so caught up in taking sports so seriously. People call anything happening in an athlete’s life other than their sport a “distraction.” A distraction? Like life is interfering with a game they play for money. Sports are fun. Yes, they’re intense and we love them for that, but let’s not forget that fell in love with them because of the fun.
J.P.: I hope this doesn’t offend you, but I feel like the phrasing “overnight sensation” sort of applies here—in a very good way. You were recording YouTube clips for Guyism one minute, you’re working for Fox Sports 1 the next. Katie, how did this happen? Or, put different, what was your path from womb to here? Is this always what you wanted to do?
K.N.: Consciously? No. I had no idea I could do this, so I sort of ruled that out really early. But when I got the gig, everyone close to me said “this is what you were meant to do.”
I went to school to study public relations. People always ask me why, and the sad truth is that I had no idea what I wanted to do, so I took a “What Should I Major In?” quiz on PrincetonReview.com and that’s what it said. I never even considered anything else. How stupid is that? I went and I got my degree and I worked internship after internship and I graduated Cum Laude and I tried to get a job … and nothing. No one was hiring. And if they were, the job was in New York City and paid $25,000 a year and I wasn’t that confident in my ability to live in a cardboard box.
So I moved back home and started bartending at a place close to BU, and after a few months of dealing with drunk college kids I swear I could feel my brain cells packing up their shit to leave. So I started a blog with one of my friends to keep myself (and my brain) occupied during the day. I took it way too seriously. I updated it 12 times a day even when only three people were reading it, and eventually one of those people ended up being someone in a position to help me. One of the founders of Guyism.com asked me to write for them, so I did that for a while, and then they came to me with this idea of doing a daily video of news headlines and jokes. Originally I told them absolutely not because I was so uncomfortable on camera and had a tendency to over act and I knew I’d be awful. But they had me do it anyway … and found out I was right. But then I just worked and worked at it, and the show evolved from a shoddy little thing on a web cam with awful jokes and no comedic timing to a full-fledged green screen production with pictures and lower thirds and awful jokes and a little bit of comedic timing. And after two years of that, someone at Fox Sports Digital contacted my boss to let them know they were launching a new network and thought I’d be a good fit, and the rest is history.
The timing of it all was incredibly lucky and I will always feel a little guilty when someone tells me I didn’t “pay my dues.” But then I remember waking up at 5 am to research, write, film, edit and produce a show, all alone, five days a week for two years, and I tell people who say I had this opportunity “handed to me” to lock it up.
J.P.: Your Twitter battle with (and, ultimately, takedown of) Kevin Connolly was dazzling, awesome, fantastic, killer. I’m fascinated—what in your brain said, “I’m not just letting this shit go”? What do you think of the guy now? And why does celebrity have such a warping impact on so many?
K.N.: I cringe a little when I talk about this story, mainly because I was young and stupid when it happened, and I know I’m not completely devoid of guilt in the situation. I can see now why posting a private message he sent me to an audience of people was a pretty dick move. I was starstruck that a celebrity had contacted me, and thought my “fans” (I think my fan page had less than 1,000 likes at the time of the post) would think I was cooler because of it. That being said, he has actually apologized since. I’ll still drop a Kevin Connolly joke into something I’m doing every now and then as a sort of wink at the fans who were around for all of that, but we have laid the issue to rest. He said he was out of line and asked for forgiveness, and I respect that.
As for why I didn’t just let it go at the time, I’m a protective person. I have this small group of fans that have been with me since day one, and I felt responsible for them. I wanted them to know I wouldn’t let someone attack them just because he was famous. It felt like the right thing to do.
I’m starting to see the other side of things now, even just as a person on a show that barely anyone watched. You get poked and prodded a lot when you’re a “public figure.” I’ve lashed out at some people on Twitter before. It’s hard to constantly grin and bear it on the internet, when any sane human would defend themselves in real life. “Don’t feed the trolls” goes against our instincts.
I’ve met some people during CGW’s short life who taught me how dangerous it is to become accustomed to the star treatment. You see it with athletes sometimes; they’re worshiped by so many for so long, and it’s hard to adapt to a life where someone tells you no. Celebrity is scary and does awful things to people. I still have so much to learn, but right now the way I see it is if you treat it like part of the job, you’re much better off than treating it like the reason for the job.
J.P.: I worked with Rick Reilly at SI for many years. I can’t say we’re friends, but we’re certainly friendly colleagues—so I found your epic beatdown of him both painful and invigorating. It got me thinking about something, and that is—in 2014, with media the way it is—how do people like Rick (fuck, and me) survive and thrive? You’re young, you’re multi-media, you’re relatable. But what if you’re an aging writer with a receding hairline? What are we supposed to do now?
K.N.: I’m going to be honest, here: I had never really put that much thought into how scary that must be, to watch a profession you mastered change into something you don’t know much about, until you just asked that question. Obviously everyone talks about journalism as a “dying industry” (which is bullshit, btw) and the “constantly evolving blogosphere” and all those awful buzzwords, but to actually put myself in the shoes of someone who is amazing at their job and then awful at what their job becomes, by no fault of their own, is really eye-opening. And I think that’s the case with Rick Reilly. I used to be a huge fan of his. I think a lot of people were. And a lot of times you see someone’s popularity reach a tipping point and people turn on them, but I don’t think that’s what happened. He just doesn’t appear to have a willingness to adapt. But that explains so much when you look at it that way. Like when he ordered Stuart Scott to credit him for having it first on Twitter. That’s a journalist projecting old-school journalism on a new-school medium instead of actually trying to understand the new-school medium.
I’m in no position to provide any kind of advice for incredibly talented writers and journalists on how to adapt to the insanity of this new era of media. I actually wish I could, so they wouldn’t disdain my existence. The only thing I know you can’t do is ignore that changes are happening around you and keep doing what you’re doing and expect people to listen.
J.P.: When Fox Sports 1 started, there was tons of talk about directly fighting ESPN. Am I wrong in thinking that’s never really going to happen? Why or why not?
K.N.: I may be hopelessly optimistic here, but I can’t give up yet on the fact that it will happen. I think it’s obviously going to take some time; ESPN has been doing this relatively unchallenged for years. They’ve worked out the kinks and can pretty much churn out content like a machine. It isn’t a bad thing; it’s impressive. But no one benefits from a lack of competition, especially not the people consuming your product. Was it a little premature to come out of the gate boasting that FS1 would go head to head with The Mothership? Maybe. But I kinda love that. I think a network that embraces the fact that it probably doesn’t have a chance in hell but takes it anyway will eventually win people over. There’s a market out there for something other than ESPN. It exists. People want an alternative. I think Fox Sports 1 needs to put its head down and focus on being the best Fox Sports 1 it can be, and by the time it looks up it’ll be that much closer to competing with the worldwide leader. And really, who loves an underdog more than sports fans?
J.P.: I’ve been on television a lot over the years, and while I enjoy it, I don’t love it. What do you love about the medium? Is it the rush? The buzz? And how do the time constraints (“We’ve gotta wrap this in 30 seconds!”) not drive you crazy?
K.N.: To answer that last part first … yes. I have no other type of TV to compare it to, but live TV is hard. Sometimes on the show we’d be in the middle of a heated conversation, and I’d be ready to make a point, and we’d have to go to commercial. Or I’d spend the day working on a segment that ends up getting cut because our guest gave a couple long-winded answers in the C block and now we’re running heavy on time. That took a lot of getting used to. For me, it helped to put the integrity of the show before my own desire to contribute. If you focus on the fact that the guest is telling an incredibly interesting story and everyone watching is enthralled, you feel silly being frustrated with the fact that the audience won’t get to hear that joke you wrote about Richie Incognito.
As for what I love about TV, I’d say it’s the opportunity to make people laugh. You can tell a joke at a bar with your friends and make four people laugh. You can tell a joke at a comedy club and make 20 people laugh (I can’t, but maybe you can). But on TV, you can tell that joke once and people hear it across the country. For that reason I would actually say I don’t love TV as much as I love TV paired with the internet. I can’t imagine back in Regis’ day, when you could say something on TV and go home and make yourself a nice steak and go to bed. Unless it was something incredibly newsworthy or offensive enough to make people pick up their phones, you never had to hear about it or think about it again. Some days I think that would be awesome. But I also think it’s awesome that I can go on Twitter after a show and see that people laughed. I can see on the blogs that people enjoyed something we did. We aren’t just submitting things into a void; we can tell pretty much right away if we entertained people. It’s a blessing and a curse, but it certainly keeps you on your toes.
J.P.: Do you feel like—knowledge-wise—male sports fans have low expectations for women? Do they think you’ll only know surface material? Or is that generational?
K.N.: Yes and no. I feel like, overall, fans have irrationally high standards for all sports reporters. Look, if you’re a baseball reporter on NESN and you don’t know the Red Sox starting lineup, you should probably be fired. But if you’re on a national sports show that covers every sport and you screw up the year that the Pirates drafted Andrew McCutchen, it’s OK. Sports fans are amazing in that they’re fiercely loyal to their teams and they know every stat and every piece of history, but I wish sometimes they’d put down the pitchforks and remember that, beside their team, there are 29 other teams in major league baseball, three other “major” sports in the country, and two producers yelling in our earpiece about buying time because the guest is late.
To do a better job of answering your original question, I’d say I don’t notice or mind peoples’ expectations for my sports knowledge. I think we, as humans, try to simplify everything we experience into categories that are easier for our brains to process. When a woman is categorized as attractive, most people won’t expect her to also be knowledgeable. So a person’s expectations for me don’t bother me so much as when a person confuses their expectations with the truth. Take, for example, a comment on one of my YouTube videos that Fox Sports shared on Facebook: “Fox Sports hires ANOTHER dumb bimbo. No thanks, I won’t be watching!!” Makes sense; he won’t watch because I’m dumb, and he knows I’m dumb because … oh wait, that actually makes no sense. Double exclamation points!!
J.P.: You Tweet A LOT about hockey—a sport that interests me as much as senior golf. Question: Why do you think the NHL has never gained the mass appeal of the three big team sports? Is the league doing something wrong? Are we just lame?
K.N.: Blaming people who don’t take an interest your sport is not an effective way to prove your sport is worth taking an interest in (right, soccer fans?). So no, you aren’t lame. For me, hockey was the sport I grew up around. My brother played, and was pretty good at it, so I spent a lot of time in hockey rinks. Actually, I’d say most hockey fans I know either played when they were younger or grew up with someone who did. And, coming from a family that would have had two hockey players in it if we could afford it, I can tell you it’s pretty expensive to play. I’m not saying youth participation is entirely responsible for adult fandom, but it’s certainly a factor worth considering.
It’s also worth considering that Americans tend to love things that belong to them. Baseball is our nation’s pastime. NASCAR is actually more American than apple pie at this point. The sport we call “football” is called “American Football” everywhere else because we changed the sport into something completely different but couldn’t be bothered to change the name. Hockey, though, is still perceived as Canadian. Canadian hockey players have never comprised less than 50 percent of the NHL, and most Americans just don’t feel that national connection to the athletes or the sport. That’s why I think Olympic hockey is so important to the growth of the NHL’s appeal; it’s hockey that America can feel comfortable getting behind. (Which is why I think it’s a huge mistake that some NHL owners are starting to talk about banning their players from participating in the Olympics, but that’s eight more paragraphs I won’t bore you with.)
I honestly do think people are starting to come around to it. Last month I heard multiple people say, on SportsCenter of all places, that the NHL playoffs are the best postseason in sport. The secret is out. Plenty of room for you on the bandwagon, Jeff! At least until the next lockout.
J.P.: You worked with Regis on Crowd Goes Wild. I heard mixed things—nice guy, not so dedicated to the show, giving, big ego. What was your experience like? What do we need to know about the man?
K.N.: My grandmother is 87-years old. She lives in my old room at my parents’ house and my mother’s full-time job is taking care of her. If my nana, a kind and loving woman, was on live television for an hour every day, people who work with her might say she’s “not so dedicated to the show.” And they would have every right to say that because they have to be on set hours before her, and they have to help her when she forgets things, and it’s their job to make sure she doesn’t look bad. But at the end of the day, she’s 80-FUCKING-7, and the fact that she got out of bed and put on real shoes is downright commendable.
Now imagine my grandmother is a television legend who has earned the right to do whatever she damn well pleases, and you’ll see how it’s hard to actually complain about working with Regis Philbin.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH KATIE NOLAN:
• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I was 10 and flying to Georgia for the Junior Olympics with my rhythmic gymnastics team, and they told us there was a problem with the wing so we had to make an emergency landing, and we were in no actual danger but I was 10 and dramatic so I told all my friends we almost died.
• Would you rather eat 200 living maggots or have the nails on both your thumbs torn off?: Have the nails on both my thumbs torn off, any day of the week and twice on Sunday. I don’t trust that all those maggots are gonna die and not eat me from the inside out unless I chew each and every one, and that isn’t happening.
• Rank in order (favorite to least): Mark Messier, Slam Magazine, blueberry pie, cursing, Ed Sheeran, Bobby Jindal, Rocky II, Austin Mahone, Sha Na Na, Ron Howard, Hangover II: Cursing, Mark Messier, blueberry pie, Rocky II, Ron Howard, Slam Magazine, Ed Sheeran, Sha Na Na, Hangover II, Austin Mahone, Bobby Jindal.
• I sorta love Demi Lovato’s music. I’m 42. How weird does that make me?: The “‘s music” makes it not weird at all. I’m 27 and listen to “Good Vibrations” by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch on my way to work every morning.
• Celine Dion calls. She wants you to MC her next show. She’ll pay $5 million for five hours of work, but you have to shave off your hair, get a nose ring, call yourself “Motherfucker Motherfucker IV” the entire time (without laughing) and, at night’s end, lick the entire 200’x300’ floor. You in? You seriously had me right up until that part about licking the floor. The $5 million will barely cover those medical bills and you know it.
• Three memories from your senior prom? 1. It 2. Was 3. Boring
• In your mind, what are the odds of some sort of afterlife?: High enough that it’s possible, low enough that I’m gonna enjoy the one life I’m sure of right now just in case.
• Climate change–hoax or scary-as-shit problem?: Problem. People who think climate change is a hoax? Scary-as-shit problem.
• One question you would ask Carrot Top were he here right now?: Celine Dion calls. She wants you to MC her next show. She’ll pay $5 million for 5 hours of work, but you have to shave off all your hair, get a nose ring, call yourself “Motherfucker Motherfucker IV” the entire time (without laughing) and, at night’s end, like the entire 200′x300′ floor. How much of your $5 million will you spend on your face?