In Depth

ESPN’s ‘Mayne’ Thing

Sports Web Site Prepares to Launch 1st Scripted Series

Fans of ESPN’s Kenny Mayne know he’s got a dry wit and a deadpan delivery that trusts them to get the joke, whether it’s on him, his confreres at the sports network or the audience.

He stoically exercises his familiar funny bone in “Mayne Street,” which is opening new online territory on Oct. 2 as ESPN.com’s first scripted series.

Mr. Mayne plays his lanky, laid-back, authority-baiting self in the 15-Webisode series—produced on a budget that might cover the average prime-time pilot at a broadcast network—that aspires to hit a comedy sweet (and sour) spot somewhere between “Arrested Development” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

In one installment, he’ll fail to get to Beijing to do an Olympics feature and try to fake his report in Manhattan’s Chinatown.

The bit finds him donning a cheongsam that goes quite nicely with his prematurely silver hair. It’s a fashion choice that looks downright dignified compared to the Picasso-esque glitter makeup and shiny shirts he has been known to affect for “DanceCenter,” his ESPN-like dissection of the competition on “Dancing With the Stars,” where his cha-cha earned him the first elimination in the ABC hit show’s second season.

Over the course of the first season, Mr. Mayne will get cheated by poker-playing anchors, decide a tattoo will give him youthful street “cred” and try to freeload off of some of the actors from “The Sopranos.”

Tony “Paulie Walnuts” Sirico, Steven “Bobby Bacala” Schirripa and Dominic “Junior Soprano” Chianese play themselves in a scene that finds Mr. Mayne trying to pry out of the actors what really happened after the infamous fade to black with which “The Sopranos” ended its run on HBO.

“‘The Sopranos’ did not work at their real rate,” Mr. Mayne said.

Creators Josh Shelov and Todd Pellegrino spent a recent Monday morning shooting the scene in Bar Americain, a bustling Midtown Manhattan restaurant owned by celebrity chef Bobby Flay. Mr. Flay offered his hot spot out of a friendship with Mr. Mayne, a fellow horse-racing fan he met a couple of years back at Saratoga Springs.

The backdrop was the open kitchen and a lot of real cooking, silver-polishing and table tweaking by Mr. Flay’s staff, which had to be ready for the lunch crowd by 11:45 a.m.

Among the extras filling the tables and nibbling at real food throughout the morning of taping and retaping and re-retaping were producers’ friends who had taken a half-day off from their real jobs at financial houses and ad agencies.

Surrounding Mr. Mayne were his supporting ensemble. “We love, love our cast,” said Mr. Pellegrino.

Jon Glaser, looking very Richard Petty with his frizzy hair and scruffy beard obscuring most of a face already hidden by a battered straw cowboy hat and big iridescent sunglasses, is cast as Video Cowboy, the cameraman. Mr. Glaser, who has the reputation of a comedian’s comedian, has a series about to begin production for the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim.

Also in the cast: Alison Becker as the producer constantly trying to save Mr. Mayne from himself; Jordan Carlos as a young p.a.; Ben Schwartz as the wunderkind new executive nobody at ESPN would admit to recognizing; and Aubrey Plaza as the executive’s assistant. And carrying the flag for ESPN are personalities ranging from Scott Van Pelt to Neil Everett.
Mr. Shelov, 37, and Mr. Pellegrino, 36, know this territory and Mr. Mayne.

“I think we can write this world pretty well,” said Mr. Shelov. Mr. Mayne, who collected his thoughts about sports and pop culture this year for his first book, “An Incomplete and Inaccurate History of Sport*,” said he does occasionally “freelance” a line that may or may not make the final cut.

The creators are both former ESPN production assistants who share an early memory of Mr. Mayne beating himself up in a hallway at the sports empire’s headquarters in Bristol, Conn., for not being able to pronounce a certain sports personality’s name.

Mr. Shelov and Mr. Mayne have a movie project they’ve been nurturing.

But for right now, Mr. Mayne is happy where he is.

“This is the best job and the best contract I’ve ever had with ESPN,” he said.

And by far the best cheongsam he’s ever worn.