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ESPYs Producer Eyes Melissa McCarthy to Host, Talks A-List Pull

The award show's EP Maura Mandt talks about hopes to land a first-time female emcee and the kudos' evolution from afterthought to Hollywood destination.

Espy Awards | Los Angeles, July 11
2012 ESPYS host Rob Riggle

The ESPY Awards head into their 20th anniversary edition July 17 with host Jon Hamm and Miami Heat star LeBron James, Serena Williams and retired Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps leading the nominations. Since they premiered two decades ago, The ESPYs have evolved from a sleepy taped affair to an A-list event that manages each year to attract Hollywood’s elite and the country’s top athletes -- no easy feat, with constantly conflicting league schedules.

“We probably spent the first 10 years trying the sell the athletes on the credibility of the show,” says executive producer Maura Mandt, who started on the ESPYs in 1996 as a production assistant. Now many of the athletes and Hollywood presenters are the ones doing the pitching. The first time Kiefer Sutherland presented in 2004 at the height of his popularity with 24, his publicist told Mandt that he’d only be available to present the first award and then he would have to leave. But a few minutes after Sutherland left the stage, Mandt got a tap on her shoulder. “Kiefer didn’t want to leave, he wanted to stay and watch the show. I had to kick someone out of the front row and give him a seat.”

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Jamie Foxx and Matthew Perry expressed interest in hosting when they were presenters. Foxx hosted the show in 2003 and 2005, Perry hosted in 2005. And in 2010, Hamm starred in an ESPYs short ("A Gentleman’s Guide to Golf Etiquette") with two-time host Seth Meyers and Jack McBrayer

“The ESPYs is the big night where sports and entertainment come together,” notes ESPN president John Skipper, who is directly involved in selecting the host. “So we like to have a host who’s a big star but who's also a sports fan."

Hamm, a St. Louis native, is a diehard sports fan with a deep knowledge of baseball. "We don't really want a caustic host; Ricky Gervais wouldn't really work for us, [he’d] come out and tell everybody what idiots they are and point out all of their foibles and shortcomings," adds Skipper.

Of course, there are still people on the ESPYs wish list, including Chris Rock, a dedicated New York Knicks fan. And Skipper and Mandt have yet to find the right woman to host the show. In the past, invitations have been extended to Rosie O’Donnell, Whoopi Goldberg and Ellen DeGeneres, but schedules have never aligned. 

“I regret that we've never been able to find the right woman to do it,” says Skipper. “I'd love to have a female host.”

Melissa McCarthy, who starred in a memorable Saturday Night Live skit spoofing volatile former Rutgers men’s basketball coach Mike Rice, is on the top of the list.

“She’s someone who I definitely think would make a great host in the future,” adds Mandt. “I would love to see a woman take on the show. And that’s really what the host’s role is, to help us get a certain take on the year. But it needs to be authentic.”

E-mail: Marisa.Guthrie@THR.com
Twitter: @MarisaGuthrie