With the NFL season upon us, most Pittsburgh sports reporters will spend their days seeking interviews with athletes like Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu and Santonio Holmes.
But ask Jim Shearer who his next interview subject might be, and the answer is, "I was thinking maybe Scott Campbell, the 1980s quarterback. He's selling real estate now, so I really think he might do it."
For those who don't remember Campbell, in three years as a backup he went 51 for 115, for 721 yards. He had five touchdowns, seven interceptions and was sacked 10 times.
For those who don't remember Shearer, he spent six years hosting video shows and interviewing bands on MTV sister station MTV2. Today he hosts VH1's Top 20 Video Countdown.
Shearer, a native of Shaler living in New York City, is beginning the second season of "Yinz Luv 'Da Stillers," his "official low budget/no budget homemade football Web show." Broadcast on YouTube, each 10-minute-or-less installment typically gets between 1,500 and 2,000 hits each week. He's already scored a journalistic coup, having recently posted a two-part interview with Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham. But every broadcast allows Shearer the chance to combine his love of sports, his chops as a television host -- and his desire to move back to the Steel City.
"I guess I'm doing this backwards," he says. "I think most people start in Pittsburgh with hopes of moving to New York."
But then Shearer never set out to become a sports broadcaster. In high school, he dreamt of becoming a VJ on MTV. After graduating with a degree in journalism from Waynesburg College in 1997, he went to grad school in Syracuse before moving to New York in 2001.
By that time, MTV had moved away from playing videos, consigning the actual music to MTV2. But Shearer applied several times and, after an interview process that took about seven months, he was hired. Shearer spent the next six years hosting video shows and interviewing many of the bands he grew up listening to.
"I loved the Beastie Boys growing up," says Shearer. "And I actually got to do several things with them and artists like David Bowie and Beck. I was living the dream."
But as Shearer's contract wound down, MTV2 started moving away from music as well. Doing interviews from Spring Break wasn't what Shearer signed up for, so he left the channel in 2007. That December, he received a phone call out of the blue with an offer to host the Top 20 Video Countdown on VH1.
"I'm mostly a fan of alternative and indie music," Shearer says, and Top 20 Video focuses on pop. "But it was also a video show, and there aren't a lot of those jobs out there any more." Anyway, he adds, "Pop music is starting to grow on me. The artists are very media-savvy, and at least they can hold a conversation."
Still, the 34-year-old Shearer and his wife have begun talking about starting a family -- something he'd rather do in Pittsburgh than New York. Even before the VH1 opportunity, Shearer was looking for a media job in Pittsburgh. And with paying VJ jobs in short supply, Shearer has turned to his other love: sports.
"My first Steelers memory is watching Super Bowl XIV against the Rams on a little black-and-white TV with my dad," he recalls.
Shearer's online broadcasting career actually started with a show about the Pittsburgh Penguins, titled "Yinz Luv 'Da Guins." The idea was to provide potential employers with a sample reel of him doing a sports show. But when the 2008 hockey season ended, it seemed natural to begin a Steelers show later that year.
Shearer writes, edits and directs the entire show: He even created the artwork used in the opening credits. He posts a new installment the day after every game.
Most local sports-talk shows feature guys in suits or polo shirts dissecting key plays and mulling over playoff strategies. Shearer's approach, though, has a looser SportsCenter vibe, sprinkled with sometimes-whimsical dialogue. In one episode, he describes Santonio Holmes hurdling a defender as doing a "Roger Kingdom" -- an athlete famous to track-and-field fans.
It's not like anything else you'll see locally -- and that's proving to be a problem.
"It's been a lot harder than I thought" to get in the door, says Shearer. "Pittsburgh is a tough nut to crack. They told me things like, 'Our people don't do that kind of schtick' and, 'That's not Pittsburgh TV.'"
Still, to Shearer, "That's kind of the point. I think they're missing the big picture."
Shearer recently posted his two-part interview with Jack Ham (set up for him by a mutual acquaintance: a makeup lady Shearer met on a VH1 shoot in Florida).
Following a brief discussion of Ham's love of red wine --"I'm into the pinots and I'm into the Italian reds," he remarks as he drinks wine from an oversized glass during the interview -- Shearer broaches the subject of how last year's highly touted defense matches up with Ham's Steel Curtain Dynasty of the 1970s.
"Last year the Steelers won the world championship ... with a defense that was downright nasty, and it's the first time I ever remember hearing a Steelers defense being mentioned in the same breath as the 1970s Steelers defense," Shearer asks. "Let's discuss. Is it fair to have that conversation?"
Replied Ham: "Yeah, you can bring it up because they closed the deal. A lot of times you can have great stats, but if you don't win the championship to go along with it, it really doesn't matter. And that's what they did."
The interview was Shearer's first on the Web show, although certainly not in his career. He hopes that if he keeps doing the show long enough, some Pittsburgh broadcast exec will think it's worth watching. So far, the interview's two parts have attracted a combined 3,000 viewers. "We may not get 20,000 YouTube hits," says Shearer, "but our viewers are loyal."