Take the This is SportsCenter commercial campaign, minimize the camera time of all ESPN personalities who aren’t Kenny Mayne, extend the 30-second spots to a series of 15 three to five-minute episodes, and add a few NYC improv comics and you’ll have a close approximation to the little bit of wonderful that is ESPN’s second (I count the soapy spoof Endless Drama as the network’s first) online original series, Mayne Street.
Presented by Nyquil, produced by ESPN vets Todd Pellegrino and Josh Shelov in association with P3 Entertainment (which was also behind Cheap Seats, whose Randy and Jason Sklar currently star in another sports-centric online original, Back on Topps), and set mostly in and around the streets of New York City and the dish-laden ESPN campus in Bristol, Connecticut, the series depicts the fictionalized business life of Kenny Mayne.
That includes overzealous bosses bent on product integration, faking coverage from the Beijing Olympics, taping SportCenter outros and pants-less intros, and showing guests of ESPN studios where Chris Berman urinates.
The journalist/author/comedian/anchor’s “dry wit and a deadpan delivery that trusts [his fans] to get the joke, whether it’s on him, his confreres at the sports network or the audience,” provides the foundation for the series, making it enjoyable even for those that don’t know the difference between Babe Ruth and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and a must-see for any sports fan familiar with its poker-faced star.
The program could easily stray into the realm of slapstick or hackneyed mockumentary (thankfully, at least in the official episodes, the characters on Mayne Street only talk to ESPN cameras and are otherwise unaware they’re being filmed). But Mayne’s sardonic wit provides a solid foundation in a silly reality that’s easily accepted with just a touch of suspended disbelief.
The series’ solid cast of co-stars – Allison Becker and Aubrey Plaza (whose rivalry makes for some of the best lines in the show), Jon Glaser, Jordan Carlos, and Ben Schwartz (of Rejected Jokes) – buttress the big man’s performance well, adding to the spoof but never pushing it over the top.
I recently caught up with my favorite character in the crew, Ben Schwartz (who plays an underage and overzealous executive) to get his take on the successful series:
Tilzy.TV: What is Mayne Street?
Ben Schwartz: Mayne Street is a heightened version of Kenny Mayne working at ESPN with a splash of hijinks and coworkers.
Tilzy.TV: How’d you get involved?
Schwartz: I was sent out on an audition for a smaller role in the web series and after I auditioned, the guys pulled me to the side and asked me to audition for a different character that ended up being Mintz. Mintz was originally supposed to be 30 or older (I forget) but in the end they liked the way I played it, so the writers re-worked the character a bit to make him younger for me.
The writers/directors and producers of this piece were so much fun to work with. They let us play around and have fun with the characters.
Tilzy.TV: Tell me about Evan Mintz.
Schwartz: Evan Mintz is the Senior VP of ESPN. A title that is usually held by a far older man. He is one of the big men on campus and holds the futures of a lot of anchors in his hands. He is constantly on a bluetooth headset and although sometimes he can come across as a douche, he works his ass off to stay on top and truly wants to succeed.
(Also, in one of the episodes I think I added that he takes miniature horse back riding lessons. Unsure if that’ll be in the final cut.)
Tilzy.TV: How much of Topher Grace’s “Carter Duryea” of the Dennis Quaid film In Good Company is in your character?
Schwartz: I’ve never seen the movie In Good Company, so i’m going to assume Topher Grace’s role was very similar to his role of Venom in Spiderman 3…and if that’s the case, then Evan Mintz is nothing like venom and that’s a stupid question.
Tilzy.TV: What’s it like working with Mayne?
Schwartz: Kenny was great. He really is a funny, nice, genuine guy. The whole cast was hilarious and fun. I hope that some TV station picks the show up or ESPN.com wants to make more webisodes so we all get to mess around some more.
Tilzy.TV: Do you think if Mayne could do whatever he wanted that ESPN would look a helluva like Mayne Street?
Schwartz: I think if Kenny Mayne could do whatever he wanted, he would make himself fly or give himself the power of invisibility. Worrying about work would be way further down on the list.
Tilzy.TV: There are a ton of cameos in the series. Which one was the coolest for you?
Schwartz: There are 15 episodes in total and I think i’m in 5 or 6, so I missed out on all the Sopranos guys coming in, etc. The coolest cameo for me was doing a scene with Ray Allen. I am a huge fan of the NBA and although the Knicks are my team, it was a great feeling to do a scene with a guy who just won the championship and played Jesus Shuttlesworth.
Check out Mayne Street at ESPN.com.