Radio hosts Mike Francesa and Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo began teasing a possible reunion of the Mike and the Mad Dog show in earnest at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. “I think it’s possible, I really do,” Francesa said following the April premiere of the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary Mike and the Mad Dog, which airs on the network Thursday. But speaking three months later, Francesa says a revival of the popular show, which aired on New York’s WFAN radio station from 1989 through 2008, is unlikely.
“I have no idea,” Francesa, who is set to leave WFAN after 28 years in December, tells EW. “Neither one of us works cheap, first of all. That’s the bottom line. Secondly, he’s under contract and I’ll be free for the first time ever. We don’t even own the name of the show — that’s owned by CBS and maybe owned by Entercom, which is now in the process of buying CBS Radio. So we don’t even own the name of our own show. So it’s very hard to see how this would all come together.”
Adds Russo in a separate interview, “A lot of this has to do with Mike because he has to come to me. Because I’m contracted with Sirius and Mike isn’t. Mike is going to be free to do what he wants to do in December. […] Mike is going to have to sort out what he wants to do and if Sirius is going to have overtures there — I think Sirius might, I don’t see why they wouldn’t. But it’s really going to be in Mike’s hands because of the fact that he’s going to be the free agent, not me. I don’t think he’s thinking too much about that right now. It’s July. He’s still got part of the summer here. He’s off a lot. He’s got the start of the football season where the [New York] Giants are going to be good. Once the World Series is over with and once he gets into a situation where the [New York] Jets are 1-9 and it’s just the Giants and it’s Nov. 10, then he’ll start to think about it.”
When Russo left the Mike and the Mad Dog radio show in August 2008 to pursue a solo broadcasting career at satellite radio company SiriusXM, it ended the most successful sports talk radio collaboration in history. Paired together in 1989 during the nascent stages of WFAN, Francesa and Russo became titans of a burgeoning industry and their unpolished style — Francesa speaks slowly and is prone to making hyperbolic statements; Russo’s rapid-fire delivery lends itself to numerous pronunciation errors — helped launch countless imitators. “From the standpoint how we changed the way sports talk was done, we kind of put sports talk in primetime and we also kind of created the team aspect of this, which really changed the industry,” Francesa says. “It had been an industry that was basically one guy, most of the time at night, working in the city. We put it where it became a format that was 24 hours a day in major cities across the country, and the team concept became very prevalent in sports talk.”
He adds, “We created an industry, Pardon the Interruption kind of copied us, and then a lot of them on TV kind of copied Pardon the Interruption.”
But what the shows that followed missed — and what director Daniel Forer’s 30 for 30 documentary understands — is that Mike and the Mad Dog worked because of its central relationship. Francesa and Russo were, at different points in the epic run, partners, adversaries, friends, and enemies; depending on the situation, each played the straight man or comedy headliner. The Mike and the Mad Dog film dives into their clashes without sugarcoating things and paints a complex picture of the joys and challenges of being in a workplace relationship.
“The biggest surprise of this is that women are loving the film,” Forer says. “Absolutely adoring it. They’re saying, ‘You don’t understand, this isn’t a sports film — this is a love story. This is a relationship story. And we relate to that and it’s delightful to see.'”
In the years since their split, Francesa and Russo have reunited for events — including a sold-out show at New York’s Radio City Music Hall in 2016 — and they’ve been pushed together again during the press tour for Mike and the Mad Dog. That proximity, according to Russo, has their three-decade relationship on an upswing.
“See, right now, you’ve got a perfect blend here,” Russo says. “Mike’s retiring. You have a reunion, everybody wants to talk about reunions. And you have a 30 for 30. You have a three-pronged attack with me and Mike here, 9 years after we worked with each other. I think that has brought us back closer together again. I do think there is a connection there. I think it has been rekindled in the last 15 months.”
Which is part of the reason why the unlikely reunion talk is happening — even in a climate where Mike and the Mad Dog is placed alongside the shows Francesa and Russo influenced.
“If anybody told me right now that Mike and me would not have the same oomph, I don’t buy it,” Russo says. “There are so many people out there who are doing and if you stand above the fray you stand out even better. So I don’t have any doubt in my mind that if we were on, we would be successful.”
Mike and the Mad Dog airs Thursday at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.