As anchor and reporter for Comcast SportsNet in D.C., Michael Jenkins has brought oodles of personality to sports coverage in the area. With his razor-sharp wit and Billy Madison-esque playfulness, Michael has helped transform CSN Washington into the go-to source for sports wisdom in the tri-state area. And through his man-on-the-street segments, Jenks has become a cultural touchstone.
Michael joined CSN in September 2004 from KVUE-TV in Austin, Texas, and has since won two Capital Region Emmy Awards. He was named the 2008 winner for Best Sports Reporter and also won in 2005 for Best Sports Anchor. And if you have a memory as vivid as ours, you may recall that he grew an awesome playoff beard during the Capitals’ second season last year.
We spoke with Michael via email, asking him about his special perspective on area sports, the epic ascent of the Washington Capitals, and the genesis of his on-air style. And because he couldn’t resist, Michael also dishes on Kate Hudson, Mila Kunis and college French classes. Below the jump, check out our epic interview with Jenks which includes videos of some of our favorite segments he’s done.
Our Michael Jenkins Q/A
Q. Michael, you joined CSN-DC in 2004. Since then, the Washington Redskins have a 42 and 64 record, the Nationals are 343 and 466. What’s it like being in a town that struggles with its sports teams?
A. Honestly, it’s not ideal. There’s this misconception that the media enjoys when teams struggle because it give us “something to talk about,” but that’s really untrue. When your local teams are losing, the players and coaches are unhappy, they don’t want to talk and it makes our jobs even harder. I don’t think anyone enjoys that much negativity.
At least with the Redskins, there’s a proud tradition of success that keeps everyone eternally hopeful. I know the Nationals don’t have that type of history, but I’m mystified that they’re not getting more fans at their games. They play in a beautiful new park, you can get cheap tickets, the weather is great and the team is playing good ball right now. That bothers me.
Q. You started in D.C. during the dark days of the lockout. Can you tell us about seeing the Caps’ ascent from your perspective?
A. It’s been incredible. I admit that when I came to Washington, I didn’t know much about hockey because I simply didn’t grow up with it in Texas. We didn’t even get the Dallas Stars until 1993 when I was a college sophomore. Now fast forward to last week. I was off during game three between the Caps and Habs, and I was dying to grab a beer and watch it. All of my friends were busy, so I decided to go out by myself and ended up hanging out with some Caps fans and having a blast. Doing something like that would have been unthinkable for me five years ago, and it’s a testament to how much the Caps have taken hold of this city. Also, I obviously don’t have many friends.
Q. With all the witty repartee you have to dish out, I imagine it takes a great deal of pop culture acumen to be a sports anchor.
A. I guess it depends on your anchoring style. I try and add entertainment value to my sportscasts whenever it’s appropriate, and if you’re going to do that, then I think you definitely need to have a healthy grasp of pop culture. So if you want to talk about the European air travel crisis due to the Icelandic volcano eruption, then go elsewhere. But if you’re in the mood for a discussion about Kate Hudson’s possible breast augmentation, I’m your guy.
Q. What do you prefer more? Sitting behind the desk, being out on assignment, or finding any excuse you can to use your French accent?
A. It’s really hard for me not to use that French accent because it brings back such great memories for me.
I took four semesters of French in college, but I struggled with it because unlike everyone else in my classes, I had never studied the language before. Well, one week we had a huge oral examination coming up, and our instructor asked how many of us would attend a special Sunday afternoon review session. Everyone raised their hands, but when the time came, I was the only student that showed up. It was awful because our teacher had made food and bought a whole bunch of drinks for us, and she was clearly disappointed. But after that, I was in.
She immediately took me up to her office and showed me virtually everything that was going to be on the test. Then during our final exam, she walked around the room and pointed out most of the right answers to me. Man, I miss Priscilla. She was awesome. Sorry, I went off on a tangent there.
All of that said, if I actually had to choose, I would say that sitting behind the desk is my favorite. You have all of these different elements that go into each show—writing, highlights, interviews, pacing, etc.—and when it all comes together to form a successful show, that’s a rush for me.
Q. We’ve noticed that a lot of your features have dabbled in comedy, and we totally dig it. Who has influenced you in your career?
A. Early in my career, I quit watching too many other sports anchors because I found that I would start emulating them subconsciously, and I wanted to develop my own style. However, I grew up admiring Dale Hansen, who is a legendary sports anchor at WFAA in Dallas. He’s much more divisive than I am, but he taught me that if I wanted to be successful, I had to concentrate on my writing.
When it comes to comedy, Norm MacDonald absolutely kills me. He refuses to appeal to the masses and completely commits to what he’s doing. I love that. My girlfriend and I saw him in Las Vegas last year, and there were some people who got up and left during the middle of the show, but we couldn’t stop laughing.
Q. We’re not allowed at the playoffs (because we are a curse to the team), but we saw you’ve done a few man-on-the-street segments. What’s the vibe like at Verizon?
A. Wait, wait, wait. You’re a curse to the team? I need to know more about this. The vibe at Verizon is awesome except for the one guy who came up to me last week and kept telling me how good my suits looked on TV. It was nice at first and then got sort of awkward five minutes later.
Q. We understand you as a sportscaster are not allowed to be partisan, but you’ve gotta be a fan of the local teams, right?
A. Oh absolutely. As a result of covering the local teams, you end up befriending some of the local athletes, and you can’t help but want them to succeed. Plus, I’ve been here for almost six years now, so I feel like I’m a genuine member of the community. Part of that is wanting all of your local teams to do well.
Q. Have you ever had to mask your fan-ness?
A. That’s an interesting question. More accurately, I’ve been asked to “tone down” my opinions because I can be very vocal, and I understand that. I’m not afraid to dish out criticism when I feel that it is warranted, but I will also be the first to heap praise on one of our teams when they’re getting it right. It’s not the classic objectivity to which journalists are supposed to adhere, but sports by their very nature lend themselves to spirited debate, so I think there’s some leeway there.
Q. Lisa Hillary has a clear Canadian bias. Why has she not recused herself from covering the quarterfinals?
A. So you’re telling me that just because Lisa spends her time at work drinking Molson while draped in the Canadian flag that she’s biased in some way?
Seriously, Lisa definitely wants to the Capitals to succeed, and she’s earned a tremendous amount of respect among her fellow journalists for her hockey knowledge. I think that covering the team and being a woman makes that job even more difficult. She’s in a tough spot because it’s easy for her to be labeled as a biased Canadian or a Caps homer, but I think she does a phenomenal job. [Ed. Note: We completely agree.]
Q. Who do you think is a better actor: Bruce Boudreau or the Geico Caveman?
A. Gabby is the easy choice. He’s a natural. The Geico Cavemen are only good for building rudimentary fires and making terrible sitcoms.
Q. Bigger rush: skydiving or curling?
A. Skydiving with the Army Golden Knights was one of the highlights of my life. The rush of actually jumping out of a plane and overcoming one of my biggest fears without soiling myself is something I’ll never forget. Curling was fun, but the rush was more like finally finishing a scarf you’ve been knitting.
Q. This one may be rote, but we need to know: What’s your career highlight? And what’s your most embarrassing moment on set (and there better be video of it!)?
A. During my first job, there was a high school kid who was driving back from a summer track meet in a van filled with a bunch of other athletes. There was no foul play or alcohol involved, but he ended up wrecking the van and killing one of his friends. It was awful. Lots of major media outlets wanted to hear his side of the story and how he was dealing with the tragedy, but he refused to talk to anyone.
Eventually I ended up sitting down with him and his father and convincing them to let me do the story, and they agreed. The family was very spiritual but let us film inside their house and even their church services. When the story was done, they were beyond pleased.
Well, it turns out that this kid was also a fantastic high school running back, and before he verbally committed to play football at Texas, he refused to tell anyone his plans until he called me first and gave me the story.
A couple of years later, I actually ended up covering him in Austin, and I ran into him at practice one day. He looks at me and says, “Man, you look familiar.” I reminded him who I was, and he ends up giving me this big hug. That’s still my career highlight.
As far as embarrassing moments go, I’ve been very lucky in that respect. However, a few weeks ago, I was anchoring and I said that Alex Ovechkin added another goal to his highlight rear. Awesome. In my world, Ovie’s apparently been racking up goals with his butt. I think the video has been saved for our blooper reel at the end of the year.
Q. What is the perfect Michael Jenkins segment?
A. Two minutes of Mila Kunis feeding me buffalo wings while I watch a game. That’s a sport, right?
Q. Lastly, how many goals will Alex Ovechkin have to score for RMNB to get a shoutout on sportsnight?
A. Zero. I’ll do my best to work it in.