With the launch of its streaming platform Peacock, NBC Sports has built out one of the most impressive sports talk lineups on the airwaves. The Dan Patrick Show and The Rich Eisen Show, two of the top radio shows in the world, are joined by a new show co-hosted by Michael Smith and Michael Holley, Brother From Another.
We dove deep with Michael Holley late last week, on how this new show came about, his long-standing friendship with Michael Smith, and why Brother From Another is the “most honest and fun show” on sports television. He and Michael Smith’s friendship dates back to the late-1990s, when the pair worked at the Boston Globe. Since, they’ve each had stints at ESPN. Michael Smith went on to become one of the network’s top stars, hosting SportsCenter with Jemele Hill. Holley became one of the top writers in New England, and has published a few books about Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots dynasty.
This year has also been one of the most interesting for that fabled franchise. Michael Holley also recapped how he responded to Tom Brady’s departure back in March, and his frank surprise at how quickly Cam Newton and Bill Belichick have clicked this so far this season, as well as realistic expectations for the franchise this season.
Ed. note: This interview with Michael Holley was conducted last Friday morning, before Cam Newton’s COVID-19 diagnosis, and before the New England Patriots’ Monday night loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
— Brother From Another on Peacock TV (@HolleyandSmith) October 6, 2020
The Spun: When your new show was announced, you and Michael Smith brought up themes of family and brotherhood as important ones for the show. Obviously the show is called Brother From Another, so it is pretty upfront. Hosting a two hour sports show isn’t the easiest thing in the world. How has your existing history and chemistry with Michael Smith helped launched the show?
Michael Holley: You know, you nailed it right there with that question. That’s everything. I mean, our history is everything. We haven’t even thought of doing actually doing the show. Doing show is the easiest thing in the world because it’s just an extension of what we normally do, it’s the extension of our normal conversations. And the one thing we have to be careful of is being so transparent and being so relaxed that we forget that there is a camera there, there are microphones and people are listening in on this conversation. But honestly, I just feel so comfortable talking to him. And I forget that this is supposed to be a thing. This is supposed to be a show. And sometimes I’ve startled, honestly, when I hear a voice in my ear say, “Hey, we’ve got to take a break here.” “What do you mean? Who is this? Who’s on the line. Get out of this conversation!” That is the easy part.
The more challenging parts are just what you’d expect. It’s a new show, so we have to figure out all the things that are involved with getting a new show, trying to get a staff in place, setting infrastructure, and just making sure, “hey, this is what we’re going to do for our lower thirds, what can I do for the fonts?” And all the wonky behind the scenes stuff that every TV show has to deal with. I mean, that’s the challenge, but actually doing the show and that the performance itself is very natural and it’s beautiful. It’s actually a beautiful thing.
The Spun: I imagine there’ve been unique challenges because you’ve launched the show in the middle of COVID-19, and the inability to really get in person I’m sure. How different has that been compared to other radio shows and TV shows you’ve been involved with?
Holley: I guess we didn’t really think about it that much. I mean, there is a delay, because as you said, we’re in different locations, sometimes it delays like a second and half, sometimes three seconds. And there have been some technical issues every now and then. “Hey, uh, Michael Smith shot is not there. Keep talking… Hey, I can’t hear you, but keep going.” And so you don’t flip out about those things because of the history. And I just feel like it’s going to work out, or if Michael is talking about something and let’s say he goes out for a minute, a minute and a half, I’ve known him so long and we’re so aligned in many ways. I know what he was going for. So I could actually complete the thought sometimes until he comes back, and vice versa. But I never really thought of “Hey, are you guys crazy trying to do this right now? America is in work from home mode and you know, you’re not going to be in the same places and everybody’s going to have a producer in Stamford, Connecticut. Michael’s going to be in one location. I’m going to be in another location. Somebody else could be somewhere just off the grid. Are you crazy to try to make this come together?” But I didn’t really think of it just because of the history and the comfort level.
The Spun: So you and Michael were both at the Boston Globe earlier in your careers. You were both at ESPN for awhile. You’ve ventured off while he was still at ESPN rising through the ranks.
Holley: He became a star, haha.
The Spun: Were you guys in constant contact through all that time? Were you and Michael still always talking?
Holley: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely. I mean, start off. Well, I was at the Globe a few years before he got there. I started there in 1994. As he always likes to point out I’m just a little bit older than him. So I got him by nine years, I was supposed to be his mentor. It never happened, we wound up hanging out more than a mentor-mentee relationship. So I got there in ’94 and he was there as an intern in 1999. And so we just hit it off. And so I left the Globe in April, 2004. He left in September, 2004, just two different directions. I left, started doing some TV and I would eventually get radio beginning in 2005. And he left to go to ESPN and stayed for 15 years. But yeah, I mean, we were always in contact because our relationship is not a work relationship. It started off as one, but it immediately became this family thing.
I know his parents, his kids, his oldest daughter is my goddaughter. I introduced him to his wife, he knows my wife. My mother loves him more than she loves me. He’s met my siblings. I know his brother. He’s one of my best friends, not one of my best friends in the media, he’s just one of my best friends. So we were always talking. So at every stage of our careers, we’ve just been in contact. And so sometimes we talk, we don’t necessarily talk about work, but things come up, you know.
When I was on radio and that I had a chance to do some TV locally, I hadn’t done TV in a while on a full time basis. So I it was probably ’16 or ’17, where I had a chance to host a TV show. So I called… here’s the so called mentor, calling up the mentee, and I’m asking him questions about doing TV. “What should I do? What do I need to know about TV that I forgot? Tell me about it.” So he’d given me advice. He’d asked me about if he was writing something, or he’d wanted to do something that had impact. We talk about work that way, but most of the time talk about our wives, our kids, just things that we see in society. So it’s, it’s really a great friendship. What a blessing.
The Spun: That’s awesome. So was it like the most obvious move in the world for you to take this opportunity with Peacock, when you knew that it was gonna be with him?
Holley: No question. I didn’t even work out like that. This is how it worked out: I got an alert from somebody in Boston that NBC was going to launch this Peacock thing, and are you interested. Would you be interested in being a part of it? That’s how it was presented to me. “Yeah, that’d be interesting. I’d like to know more about it. What the vision is, what they have in mind.” So my first conversation with the higher-ups, they said, “Alright, so if you were to do this, would you do it by yourself, or would you be interested in doing it with…” And as soon as they got to “doing it with” I said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa…if I have a chance to do it with somebody, it’s got to be Michael. You think they don’t even have to finish that sentence. You’re going to give me an opportunity to work with somebody? Michael Smith.” They said “Well, is he available?” I said, “He will be for me, he’ll do it for me.” And I can speak with authority because I’d do the same thing for him. If he came to me and said, “Hey, I requested to work with you. You’re available. You are available.” Because we have that kind of relationship.
So that’s how it started… I started getting nervous because I said, Michael Smith, really, goodness I hope, no one else calls right now. Because if they call right now, then I’m stuck. I was thinking like a general manager, now I’m getting in a bidding war. I just kind of wanted to sneak him in here under the radar. So that’s how it started. It’s not like they came to me and said, “Hey, we want to do a show with you and Michael Smith.” I brought him up and we went from there.
The Spun: How does it feel to be one of the centerpiece of a sports lineup that features people like Dan Patrick and Rich Eisen, real legends of the sports radio and sports TV world?
Holley: I think it’s a lot of fun. You know, I have so much respect for them and you look at their talent level, you don’t want to be the one that, that brings it down. And I really do believe in that iron sharpens, iron analogy, I believe in that all the way. Just being on with them, I would say it makes us better. It makes us more aware of what we’re doing. It makes everything a little bit tighter. Dan Patrick is, somebody, Michael Smith has talked to him, they’ve got a pretty good friendship too. So that’s somebody we both have a tremendous amount of respect for. I just watched Dan. He just has a way of making complex things look easy. He makes it look so easy. I don’t know if people realize the high level stuff that he’s doing, because he’s just so conversational, so relatable. It’s just all looks easy for him and, you know, (ProFootballTalk’s Mike) Florio and his following, and Rich Eisen. It’s just a really good lineup. We’re very happy to be a part of it.
— Brother From Another on Peacock TV (@HolleyandSmith) September 21, 2020
The Spun: You’ve written multiple books on Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. Are you surprised with how seamless the transition from Tom Brady to Cam Newton has been so far?
Holley: Yes. Shocked. I was shocked and, I had this moment of clarity or maybe it’s just an obvious, “Hey, why wouldn’t you think of this before?” moment. And I think we’ve all been in a situation where the pandemic really hits and shuts down our country in mid-March. For me, I just remember the kids stopped going to school on March 13 or whatever it was. And then everything stopped and businesses closed. So now there’s time in March where everything just slows down. You have no sports. So that’s March 13. I remember Tom Brady leaves March 17. Imagine that, leaving on St. Patrick’s day in Boston, it’s just bizarre. So he leaves and there’s this whole period of, “Oh wow, Tom Brady’s gone. The Patriots dynasty is over.” And then you have no sports, you’re working from home. So you start to have too much time to start thinking about things, and the farther you get away from sports, the more you start to believe some of the things that are going on in your mind. So I had actually convinced myself “Tom Brady’s gone, Patriots dynasty is over no matter who they bring in as a quarterback is not going to be good enough.”
And I would say a week before the season, I said, “All right now, wait a minute, wait a minute. I’ve convinced myself, this thing is over, but they got Bill Belichick as a head coach.” Even if other teams like Buffalo have more talent across the board than New England, Bill Belichick can make up some of the difference with the way he organizes his program, and puts people in position to be successful. Yeah, I probably have overstated the demise of the thing, but even with that being said, I didn’t think they would be so competitive so quickly. Even if you say, “Hey, Cam Newton is healthy, he still got it,” I didn’t think he’d just jump in here and be a team captain immediately and give everybody nicknames, including Bill Belichick, and just be a fit. So yeah, I’m surprised. I’m surprised that there hasn’t been a huge drop off yet. That’s one, and two, that the fans really haven’t been crying for Tom Brady or been in some kind of malaise. The opposite has happened actually.
The Spun: Let’s say Belichick has some really nice years with Cam… Do you think Belichick actively focuses on things like his legacy, and how winning with two different quarterbacks as different Brady and Cam can add to it even further, inasmuch as you can add to a legacy like the one Belichick has built?
Holley: I don’t think he focuses on it. I don’t think he focuses on his legacy now. That’s not to suggest he’s not aware of history, or he doesn’t care about it. I think he cares about history, and I think he wants to coach as long as he can. And would it be a goal to catch Don Shula? To be the winningest coach in NFL history. Yes. But if he does it and let’s say wins a seventh Super Bowl, and he does it with Cam Newton, I don’t think he really looks up and says, “Alright, I won with cam Newton, I won with Tom Brady, look how great I am.” I don’t think that crosses his mind.
I think he just loves it, he just loves the job that he’s doing. He’s been doing it for 45 straight years in the NFL since he graduated from college. That’s just bizarre. Isn’t it? No breaks. Nobody does that. I looked it up too. I was like, “Okay, well what’s the context for this?” Nobody in the history of football has done that. George Halas didn’t do that, coached for 45 straight years. Don Shula didn’t do that. Chuck Noll didn’t do that. Paul Brown. So really, he’s a lifer. That’s what really motivates him.
The Spun: Just based on what you’ve seen so far, what do you think that the ceiling for this Patriots team is? Do you think they might make a move to add a big weapon before the trade deadline? I think that the offense has looked good, but it certainly couldn’t hurt adding a big wide receiver piece or something like that.
Holley: A weapon for the Patriots is a defensive lineman. That’s what they think. You think of weapon, I think a weapon… I think it’s a tight end or a wide receiver. Bill Belichick thinks “Hey, I need a swing tackle.” I think they will. They like to trade. As Belichick always says, “I think teams know that we’re open for business.” They like to make moves. I’d be surprised if it’s for a wide receiver though.
What’s their ceiling? Playoff team. Now I may regret this, and who knows what’s going to happen this week against Kansas City? I don’t think they’re on that level. I just don’t. I just don’t see them matching up with the team like Kansas City. That’s a next level team. They played Seattle well enough, but I think Seattle’s better and Kansas City’s better. I still think Baltimore is better, but they’re a playoff team, a good playoff team, even a division contender in a year that Tom Brady left. I mean, that’s a league statement in itself.
— Brother From Another on Peacock TV (@HolleyandSmith) September 21, 2020
The Spun: Before we go, what’s your pitch to fans to tune into Brother From Another on Peacock?
Michael Holley: It’s the most honest and fun show that you’ll see. We always say this: it’s a show that’s not a show. So even with little things… Producer says “Throw to break.” I’m saying “I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to sound like some broadcaster. ‘…And coming up!’ Or ‘coming up later on the show…'” I just hate that. We’re talking. And I want you to know, when you come into this show, that I’m just going to sound like I normally would. Michael’s going to say it like he normally would. We’re not going to have any contrived takes, we’re not going to take opposite positions just because that’s what you’re supposed to do. We’re just doing the show. And sometimes we’ll agree on everything. And sometimes we won’t agree on anything. And it’s just an organic process. It’s really who we are.
And I think the other thing is, we bring our whole selves to the show. I don’t want to compartmentalize me. I don’t want to bring 20-percent of myself to the show and then the camera goes off and now you get the other 80-percent. So I’ll tell you how, you know, my wife doesn’t trust me with money, which is true, or you know, what the kids are doing or, hey, how I got something wrong. The other day I was talking off the air, before we went on the air, I was ripping Anthony Davis to shreds to Michael. Like, “Oh the guy’s a loser, he’ll never win a championship.” Then we go on the air, and Anthony Davis hits the shot to beat the Nuggets, he dominates Game 1 of the Finals. And I’ll say on the air, “Yeah, I got this guy wrong. You know, I thought he was this and this is where I made a mistake.” So I just think there needs to be more of that, where people just put it out there. I got nothing to hide, nothing to prove it. So I think that that’s what makes the show so much fun.