When an actor has a big project coming out, it’s commonplace to hit the talk show circuit and sit down with Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel for 10 minutes or so, show a clip, and tell a funny pre-determined story or two. Over the last few months, though, The Rich Eisen Show has become an alternative destination, a place where they can talk some sports, but also have a freewheeling conversation — and they’ve often shared some big news.
DirecTV’s three-hour daytime sports talk show may seem like an unexpected venue for movie stars, and yet that’s where Matthew McConaughey first revealed he’s thought about a True Detective return and Matt Damon opened the door for a sequel to Rounders.
Speaking with EW, Bill Hader attributes the show’s appeal to its host’s authencity. “He’s good at kind of being genuine,” says the Saturday Night Live veteran, who recently appeared on the show to promote Sausage Party. “That’s the worst when you’re being interviewed by someone and it doesn’t feel like they genuinely care about what they’re asking you.”
Eisen has been a notable TV personality since he first arrived at ESPN in 1996. He became one of the top SportsCenter anchors during his seven-year tenure before shifting to the newly-formed NFL Network in 2003. After years of heading up the channel’s Sunday coverage, Eisen searched for an outlet where he could speak his mind and interview a more diverse set of guests — so he started his own podcast. In 2011, while the NFL was dealing with a lockout, the network turned to him to bring the podcast to TV. His response: “As long as you call it inexpensive programming, I’ll do it.”
The iteration of his podcast on NFL Network continued until 2014, when he launched The Rich Eisen Show, which airs from 12 to 3 p.m. ET on DirecTV’s Audience Network and is simulcast on Fox Sports Radio. With his own daily show, Eisen was forced to step out of his usual element — but his goal was the same.
“I just want to have folks be comfortable and just share and have a good conversation. To me, that’s kind of a lost art,” he tells EW. “In the sports world it’s all about argument. It’s all about having a hot take. The other person has to have the polar opposite opinion, and you bash them together. To me it is an outlier to have a conversation be the basis of why you are listening.”
While Eisen still spends much of his show discussing sports, he’s made a point to blend in pop culture. “I love Game of Thrones just as much as I love watching the NFL; I think a lot of fans do, too,” he says. That mindset is what has opened the door to appearances from Hollywood heavyweights. Case in point: when Damon launched into a spiel about Tom Brady’s NFL suspension (which is not to be confused with Ben Affleck’s rant on Any Given Wednesday, Bill Simmons’ HBO show).
The trickier part is when guests aren’t sports fans. Hader is admittedly not very knowledgeable about sports and acknowledges it’s easy to run out of things to talk about when he has appeared on other sports-based shows, but that wasn’t the case during his first interview with Eisen. The duo went back and forth for two segments about everything from how the famous “Californians” sketch on SNL was conceived, to Hader’s one true sports connection: his role as a sports doctor and LeBron James’ best friend in Trainwreck.
For Hader, the appearance didn’t follow the usual formula. “It’s more like doing a stand-up routine and they’re prompting you; it’s much more planned,” he tells EW of his late night appearances. “It’s nice to kind of be off the cuff and just kind of wherever the conversation goes, that’s where it goes.”
Eisen’s job at NFL Network has him going deep into breaking down games and statistics with Hall of Famers such as Deion Sanders and Michael Irvin, but he says that’s not what he wants to do with guests on his show.
“I don’t want to find out what celebrity X, who is a Browns fan, thinks of the zone blitz scheme,” he explains. “I don’t think that’s the sort of thing that I would even ask many people when they come on the show; it’s very obtuse even if they are an expert on football. Having them come on and just sound like a fan if they are a fan, I think benefits the celebrity because it evens the playing field. Regular Joe can relate to the person who is the Oscar winner because they are both pissed about the same call from the same game over the weekend.”
When asked why his show has become the place for celebrities to break news — J.B. Smoove said he thought Curb Your Enthusiasm would come back a week before the official announcement was made, for example — Eisen said he believes it’s because he approaches them as a fan.
“I’m just as much a fan of some of the stuff that they’re doing as anybody else, so when Matthew McConaughey came in — I’m a diehard True Detective fan — I asked the question that I think many fans want to know, which is, ‘Would you do it again?’” he shares. “That’s my angle. I just want to have a good conversation and find out what I want to know, put the fans in my shoes, and ask the question that I think they’d like to know.”
Being a fan generally works out for Eisen — McConaughey’s answer ended up going viral. Other times, though, it ends with the New York native finding out he’s been ripped off for a thousand dollars. When walking into the show’s studio, you’re immediately met with a wall of pictures featuring Eisen with past guests and movie posters, including Goodfellas, which is signed by Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Martin Scorsese — or at least that’s what Eisen thought when he paid four figures for it at a charity golf outing more than a decade ago.
Last year, when Liotta was waiting to be interviewed in the studio, he walked onstage during a commercial break to talk to his Texas Rising costar Christopher McDonald. As he was being rushed off-screen, he dropped a bomb. “He turns around and goes, ‘Oh, by the way, Rich, that autograph of mine up in your hallway, it’s a f—ing fugazi,’” recalls Eisen. “And he turns away and walks off, and I go, ‘What?’ He goes, ‘It’s a fake,’ and he walked away.”
A shocked Eisen then sat through his segment with Liotta as the legendary actor examined the other signatures for authenticity. He wasn’t sure about those of De Niro and Pesci — “That’s his,” he says, referring to Scorsese’s — but Liotta knew his was a fake, and he wanted to make it right. Live on TV, Liotta tried to break the poster’s protective Plexiglass with an ax so he could cross out the imposter signature and replace it with his real one. The poster, now with a giant crack across Liotta’s head, is back on the wall in the studio. “That was awesome,” reflects Eisen. “It’s moments like that that you don’t plan for, you don’t know it’s going to happen. It’s completely natural, which is what I’m looking for.”