"Hooked Up," the live ESPNOutdoors.com bass show, owes its existence to fishing TV eminence Jerry McKinnis and his Web-browsing to an Internet talk show one night.
The video he found was of a couple of guys who appeared to be yakking about new gadgets, in front of a single camera in their basement. McKinnis has been producing and starring in fishing shows since the 1960s. He founded and still runs JM Associates, a production company dedicated to outdoors television, including ESPN's television and online coverage of BASS events. No surprise, McKinnis' first thought when he found a primitive but popular Webcast was: Why aren't we doing this for bass fishing?
"I had that same feeling that I had almost 30 years ago when I saw ESPN for the first time,'' he said. "They were just a little regional network but I just knew there was something there. At that time, no one had even heard of cable or envisioned what it would become. But you could feel that there was something about it that was going to be big."
The well-worn story has McKinnis becoming one of ESPN's first clients, and ESPN, well, becoming a media giant.
"'Hooked Up' will transform and grow,'' McKinnis said. "Live Internet television allows sports properties like Bassmaster to do things for their fans they could only dream about in years past."
Since the second tournament of the 2007 Bassmaster Elite Series, McKinnis and his crew have been devoting a substantial amount of manpower and production capability to what amounts to a "College Gameday"-style show for bass events.
On the final days of events, ESPNOutdoors.com now carries three live updates from the venue before a half-hour version of "Hooked Up" segues into the live weigh-in.
Given that the show is live, produced on-site, and broadcasts bass fishing — a logistical gauntlet to cover anyway — "Hooked Up" may be the most ambitious Internet broadcast not just in the outdoors, but anywhere in American sports.
"Outside of 'Hooked Up,' there's nothing that's live coverage on the Internet like this," said Mike McKinnis, Jerry's son and one of the show's producers. "It's pretty cool."
The show represents another step in the increasing sophistication of bass fishing coverage. Just five years ago, Mike McKinnis said, fishing fans would have to wait a month for televised coverage of a tournament. With "The Bassmaster Tournament Trail" airing on ESPN2, that gap narrowed to a week.
Now the producers of that show are merely ratcheting up the production capabilities already in use to create "Hooked Up" out of footage from each tournament day, including tapes from the water on Sunday. Footage that arrives with the anglers at the check-in may even make it into one of the later portions of the live show.
"You can have an idea on Sunday morning but you never know which couple of guys are going to make a leap and change the show," Mike McKinnis says. "Really, you have to adjust on the fly. It's a rush."
The live updates come via the camera operators riding with each of the 12 final-day anglers. Those cell phone calls allowed dedicated fans to follow, for instance, Mike McClelland's come-from-behind victory in the Pride of Georgia event on Clarks Hill Lake in April.
That episode of "Hooked Up" illustrated some of the other emerging hallmarks of the show. "Bassmaster Tournament Trail" personalities Mark Zona and Tommy Sanders hosted the show from the bed of a pick-up truck while fishing fans gathered to wave homemade posterboard signs in the background.
That was the day that Zona arrived in a plaid sweater vest and a tam-o'-shanter in honor of nearby Augusta National Golf Club. That stunt was pre-planned. Others aren't.
Lakeside at Smith Hill Lake in Virginia, Zona had been riffing on early leader Boyd Duckett's last name, calling him "a five-gallon bucket of awesome." A little later, when Zona's boss, Jerry McKinnis, was interviewed for the show by phone, Zona repeated the appellation: "You want to talk about a five-gallon bucket of awesome? Over the years, Jerry McKinnis." Co-host Keith Alan said that McKinnis was more like "10 gallons."
That led to this exchange. "Jerry, can you hear us?" Zona asked.
"Yeah, I can hear you," came the reply on the phone line. "I'm trying to figure out how big a bucket I am."
"I'll stay out of that one," Zona said. And then they veered from the silly to the sublime, with a salient discussion of the fishery while viewers watched footage that McKinnis shot on a trip to the lake when it first was dammed, nearly 40 years earlier.
Other guests are easy to come by after the field is cut from as many as 108 pro anglers to a round dozen on the final day. Shaw Grigsby, Davy Hite, Ken Cook and Edwin Evers all have stopped by to pontificate after missing the final day cut.
Their input is invaluable as a ready-made source of analysis for fans, giving them an insight not normally seen as the action unfolds.
"Hooked Up" airs 30 minutes prior to the final-day weigh-in of every Bassmaster Elite Series and Major competition. Also on those final days, ESPNOutdoors.com will also stream live updates at 8 a.m., 10 a.m. and noon (local tournament time) with updated, on-the-water video of the anglers.