Radio tough guy Missanelli gets warm-and-fuzzy with 'Pheud' for thought

Posted: August 28, 2013

LET'S FACE it, when you think of a game-show host "type," local sports-gabber Mike Missanelli doesn't spring immediately to mind. Historically speaking, the most successful TV-game emcees have been genial to the point of unctuousness - walking, schmoozing embodiments of the phrase "warm and fuzzy."

Mikey Miss, on the other hand, has made headlines with public explosions of anger. If you call him on his daily 3-to-7 p.m. radio show on 97.5 The Fanatic and say something that he disagrees with, he's likely to question your sanity, intelligence and reason for living.

Yet, there he is at 11 p.m. on Saturday night, presiding over "Philly Pheud" on PHL17.

"Pheud" loosely follows the blueprint of the decades-old "Family Feud," with contestants trying to determine answers to survey questions. The biggest difference is that the topics on "Philly Pheud" are specific to our corner of the universe.

"I think there are many dimensions to me," offered Missanelli, during a recent chat. "I used to watch game shows all the time growing up. I studied some of the great masters - the Wink Martindales, the Monty Halls, Jack Barry. I was really excited to do this. One of my desires in life has always been to be a game-show host, to be honest."

C'mon. How does a radio pit bull pull off the kind of everybody's-best-friend act required of a quiz-show host? "There's a warm-and-fuzzy person inside of everybody," Missanelli insisted. "You just need the right format to bring it out."

Birth of a game show

"Philly Pheud," taped in front of a live audience at the Play2 arcade inside Chickie's & Pete's on Packer Avenue, grew out of Missanelli's daily broadcast.

"On my radio show, we have this guy who calls in . . . called 'Bernie From Broomall,' " explained the former Inquirer sportswriter who also co-hosts the Phillies' Sunday-afternoon postgame shows on Channel 17 and is a regular on NBC10's "Sports Final" on Sunday nights.

"We thought it would be great radio shtick to have Bernie come in with a couple other listeners for a kind of 'Family Feud'-style game against the [station's] interns and a couple of [97.5 off-air staffers]. I started to think, suppose we did this for TV with Philly sports questions and things like that?" Missanelli recalled.

Once he had a basic outline in mind, he took it to Ken Selinger, whose CCI Communications produces the Phillies wrap-up show. "We changed the format a little so we could make it our own brand," Missanelli said. Most importantly, the pair had to be certain their project was not an exact duplicate, formatwise, of "Family Feud."

"We went through all the checkpoints with [lawyers] on how to change the format so it wouldn't be violating anyone's copyrights," he said.

Apart from geographic specificity, perhaps the most significant difference is in the composition of the competing teams. "Family Feud," of course, has families facing off against each other. Missanelli "thought it would be a good idea to have teams that were Philly brands. We've had the D.A.'s office. [District Attorney] Seth Williams was on the show with three members of his office. We pitted them against a team of top defense attorneys, [including] Jack McMahon, Brian McMonagle and Fortunato Perri.

"We're always looking for matchups like that - the suburbs vs. Philly neighborhoods, firemen vs. policemen - that's the way we're trying to do it."

As for the questions, "We do the surveys ourselves, or we consult surveys, SB Nation [a popular sports-related website], things like that."

The concept struck a chord with Vince Giannini, vice president and general manager of PHL17 and the person who put the show on the air earlier this year.

"Mike and Ken came to me with the idea and I liked it," said Giannini. "I think Mike has a lot of talent, and [the Delaware Valley] is an area that has strong interest in sports. This took sports and pulled entertainment into the mix. It seemed like it had a chance to work."

Phuture of 'Pheud'

So far, it has done more than just "work." Signed for an eight-episode run, that show has produced twice that many episodes already. And there's no reason to believe that there won't be many more.

Giannini noted that a recent airing garnered a 1.0 Nielsen rating among ages 25 to 54, the demographic most coveted by advertisers. (One rating point equals 29,493 homes in the Philadelphia Designated Market Area.)

"If I could get that number every week," declared Giannini, "I'd be doing cartwheels."

Because "Pheud" is produced on what can only be described as a shoestring budget, contestants compete more for glory than loot. "They're playing for gift cards," said Missanelli. "Obviously, we don't have a big bank account, but we're always looking to [offer] better prizes. It's not really for prizes as much as it is for fun."

Ultimately, "Philly Pheud" may have a significance that transcends its own existence. Local-origination programming that isn't based on news, sports or public affairs is extremely rare in this market. But Giannini said the success of "Philly Pheud" could lead to more local entertainment fare.

"I am always looking into other programming," said the broadcast exec. "Very few ideas that we kick around and even shoot pilots for ever make the air, but when we see one we like and we think is going to work, we'll move forward on it.

"I'm hoping to create some additional products to go along with 'Philly Pheud.' "

If you have a four-person team that would like to appear on "Philly Pheud," email PhillyPheud@ or call 610-296-7233.

On Twitter: @chuckdarrow


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