All it took was a Career Day in 7th Grade for Dan Hellie to know what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
Working his way up the ranks in the world of television, Dan Hellie has had the opportunity to work with some legendary sports anchors. He was able to do a career day with sportscaster named Glenn Brenner who was working at Channel 9 News in Washington DC.
After going to the University of Tennessee, Hellie landed his first television job. He was gaining a lot of experience on and off camera and in 2006 he made his way back to the DC Area to work under George Michael at NBC 4, who was considered one of the top sportscasters.
Hellie was the lead sportscaster at NBC 4 until 2013 when he made the jump to the NFL Network as the host of NFL Total Access.
I had the honor and pleasure to interview Dan Hellie, who is also a Magruder Colonel Alum.
Steve Rudden: Did you have any internships at Tennessee that made you realize that you wanted to be a sports anchor or work in sports?
Dan Hellie: Well, I actually did a career day in seventh grade with a sportscaster named Glenn Brenner who worked at Channel Nine and basically from seventh grade on I knew I wanted to be a local sportscaster. So, I picked my college, University of Tennessee based on that. Just did as many internships, as many jobs in broadcasting along the way, while I was in school to land that first job.
Yeah, to be more specific, I did that career day, and then once I got to college I worked for the campus radio station. I interned at a sports talk radio show called The Tony Basilio Show. I then also got an internship at the local ABC TV station, and when I came home one summer, I interned at Channel 9. So, I did as much stuff as I could. And in my last internship, which was at the ABC station in Knoxville, went to my first job, which was as a news photographer while I was still at school. I did that for my final three months of my senior year. And that was something that really helped me get my resume tape together, and that led to me getting my first on-air job in Alexandria, Minnesota.
SR: What was it like working as part of the sports department when George Michael was at NBC 4 and did you learn a lot from him?
DH: Yeah, it was amazing. You know, at that time when I came back home in 2006 that was the biggest sports department in the country. We had more than 20 people. You know, having interned there that George certainly was- We called it a game and it was not nicknamed the game for- He was nicknamed “The King” for a reason.
You know, what George said went and it certainly was a formula that worked for a long, long time. We had such a great staff of people that worked with him. Joe Schreiber, Jeff Greenberg, Rich Dunn, Steve Dresner, Mallory Crosland. I felt like you were part of an all-star team. Lindsay Czarniak was already there. So it was kind of George and Lindsay and me and it was amazing because you stepped right into the number one team in town and it was almost like you had instant credibility just because you were on the team. And then obviously you have to earn that credibility as you go, but being a part of that was something special.
SR: I’m curious to know what happens when anchors move to other networks. So, I was wondering if the NFL network reached out to you when they were looking to hire you or did you have to send your reel to the NFL network?
DH: So, normally the way it works is when you get to a market like DC, most on-air people have agents and when you get to the end of your contract, depending on what station you’re in … I always had kinda been climbing the ladder and then when I got to Washington I thought I would stay there forever. My agent sent my reel out to a few different places: ESPN, ABC News, and CBS, and Fox out here in LA.
Fox Sports One was just starting up, so I was lucky to have a couple offers. And, I was able just to use those to say to NBC, “Hey I’d like to stay here. You know I’ve got a couple of suitors.” NBC was awesome, and they offered me a new contract and I was going to stay. And, then NFL Network kind of came into the picture at the last minute. And, the way things just kind of fell into place, it ended up working out. And, we made a goal that, truthfully, we never really thought we were going to make. And, we loved it.
You know what, four years in, we would love to be able to stay out here. The television world is changing rapidly. You can … Everybody knows about all the layoffs at ESPN and cord cutters and how all that’s affecting cable television.
You know, the recession in 08, 09 really hit local TV hard. So, local TV is so different. It’s different from when I started in 2006 in Washington. And, it’s really different from when I first got into the business, and when I grew up watching it. It’s just harder to kind of survive as a local sportscaster now.
You get less time. The salaries slopes, they’re dropping. So, I kind of saw that. And, I was just asking myself, “Can I be here forever? Can I have the kind of career that Jim Vance and Doreen Gentzler and George Michael had?” And, staying and watching them for a long time. And, I just wasn’t convinced that was gonna happen.
You know, Comcast SportsNet, that is, has taken over some of the broadcasts at NBC. Carol Maloney is still there, she does a great job. But, it was just everything was changing. The sports world as we knew it, from a local standpoint, out of … You know, we had a ten person sports department even after George left. That just, that doesn’t exist anymore.
SR: Was the NFL Network, your dream job?
DH: I don’t know if it was my dream job. Channel 4 was my dream job. That’s the only place that I ever wanted to be so I’d really never thought beyond that. I had no desire to do national television, I had no desire to go to ESPN. At the point where they came in here, my kids were six and seven. I just didn’t want to live in Bristol. And I had so many friends who were at ESPN and when you go to Bristol usually, unless you do a specialized show, unless you’re hired to cover the NFL, or if you’re hired as a sports anchor, you bounce around a lot. And I felt like I had been in the business long enough and established myself and had a schedule that I liked and enjoyed, I didn’t want to bounce around and be off on a Tuesday and then a Thursday and work all the weekends. And one of the things about NFL that was very desirable was I had a set schedule.
I had a show that I knew I was gonna be on, it was a main daily show called Total Access. I’d never thought about living in LA, but once I looked into it I thought it could be pretty cool and as I’m talking to you right now, I’m looking out my kitchen window at the Pacific Ocean. I live three blocks from the beach, it’s awesome and the quality of life here in Manhattan Beach, where we live is great. The schools are great, the kids love it. My son goes to a birthday party, they don’t get a bounce house, they go to the beach and get a surf instructor and get surf lessons. It’s just a different way of life, you know?
SR: What advice would you give high schoolers and college students who want to be sports anchors when they grow up?
DH: Write. Write as much as you can. Go to journalism school, don’t go to TV school. What I mean by that is I majored in broadcasting. My degree was in communications. I took some writing classes, but I didn’t take a lot. I never wrote for the school newspaper. I feel like I never honed my writing skills as much as I would’ve liked because I was always so focused on doing television and putting stories together and writing for TV, which is very different than writing for print. The way that we’ve gone now in our business is you can learn TV later on. Like you see with ESPN and so many of these places, if you’re not an opinion guy, you’re a former writer turned expert. Now, obviously the start with Kornheiser and Wilbon with PTI and it’s carried on.
I would just say write as much as you can. Find a school that has a good broadcasting and journalism department. It doesn’t have to be the best. You don’t have to go to Syracuse or Northwestern or Missouri. I went to Tennessee. We had a small little communications school, small broadcasting department, but it was great for me, and I loved it. I loved the fact that I was at a big school with a great athletic tradition. I think that’s important, but I also think if you went to school like Elon that really invests heavily in their TV and journalism and broadcasting department, you can do great as well. That would be my main advice.
Number two, get as many internships as you can. Work for free. Just be around it. It’s all about who you know as much what you know in terms of getting that first job. Just getting your foot in the door some place is-. When you intern somewhere and then you apply for a job, they know who you are and they’ve seen that work ethic, and you’re always going to have a leg up on somebody who they don’t know.
I agree with everything that Dan has said about getting as many internships as possible. The more experience you have, the better your chances are of landing that job where you interned at.
It’s so great to see someone from the DC Area have an impact in television. Mr. Hellie is so smooth when he’s on air, and even when he’s broadcasting the Tennessee Titans Preseason Football Games.
If you want to see Dan Hellie on television, you can see him Monday-Friday at 7 pm on the NFL Network. You can also follow him on twitter @DanHellie.