Posted Wednesday, December 27, 2017 by RODNEY HOfirstname.lastname@example.org on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog
At age 7 in Scotland, Darren McMullen fell in love with American football watching games on Channel 4 Sundays. He got an actual football as a gift but couldn't find any friends willing to play with him.
Nearly three decades later, McMullen gets to live out a childhood fantasy of sorts: receiving behind-the-scenes access to pro football teams on a new USA Network show "NFL Football Fanatic," which debuts Monday at 11 p.m.
The first episode is McMullen's visit earlier this year to Atlanta and a deep dive into the Falcons. He played ping pong with star running back Devonta Freeman and quarterback Matt Ryan, shared a meal at defensive lineman Grady Jarrett's home, learned the Dirty Bird dance and held the over-sized "Rise Up" flag while running out onto the field ahead of the players at the new Mercedes Benz stadium. He also spent quality time with coach Dan Quinn and Falcons CEO and President Rich McKay.
"Atlanta was our favorite episode," he said, which is why USA is airing it first. "We thought it really ticked off all the boxes in terms of what we wanted to show. We had great access."
It didn't hurt that the Falcons just came off a Super Bowl loss of epic proportions so they are still part of the conversation nationwide - albeit not in the most flattering terms.
The 35 year old has hosted several shows in the U.K. and Australia as well as the first season of NBC's short-lived dating show "Love in the Wild" in 2011. "Football Fanatic" is the first show he has pitched himself and gotten a green light.
"I've done some amazing shows," McMullen said. "This is the most fun by far. There are so many moments I was pinching myself. I can't believe this is my job. I'm having experiences I'll never forget. I tried to embrace the moments and not worry about what was coming up next."
He hopes his accent and obvious enthusiasm for the sport allowed people to open up him easier. "I don't like to judge anybody," he said. "I'm fascinated by human beings and what makes them tick."
McMullen said given this is on USA Network, not ESPN, this is not a show just for hardcore football fans. "It's more like a travel show with football as the looking glass into the culture," he said.
This year, he visited eight teams, episodes which will air in pairs over four weeks in January. After the Falcons episode will be the Dallas Cowboys. In coming weeks, he will visit the Philadelphia Eagles, the Kansas City Chiefs, the Seattle Seahawks, the Green Bay Packers, the New York Giants and the Los Angeles Rams. He hopes if USA Network viewers like the series, he'll be able to visit the other 24 teams over three more seasons.
McMullen admits the politicization of football this season regarding the National Anthem, kneeling in protest of police brutality and Donald Trump's Tweets upset him because he pitched the show as a way to show how football transcends religion or politics.
On the bright side, he said, "we never felt any of that [blowback] during the games" he filmed.
"NFL's Football Fanatic," 11 p.m. Mondays, USA Network, January 1 through January 22, two episodes a night