SI.com's Richard Deitsch interviewed Erik Rydholm, the executive producer for Pardon the Interruption, as part of the latest Media Circus power list. To return to Media Circus, click here:
SI.com: Why does the show still work?
Rydholm: People like people. Tony and Mike are uncommonly smart, understand that there's a world beyond sports, have a depth of chemistry you can't fake, have a sense of humor about themselves, and best of all, enjoy each other so much despite their differences -- black/white, Jew/gentile, younger/older, Midwest/East Coast. Sports cuts across all lines. And shared experience/friendship/bickerin'/snickerin' is the foundation of our enjoyment of them.Also, behind the scenes, we have a really bright, hard-working team that's been together forever. And it helps that we're on ESPN in a good time slot.
SI.com: How should the show evolve over the next three to five years?
Rydholm: We need to keep getting smarter. Things are moving much faster and going much deeper than when we launched. If we lose our intellectual curiosity, we will fossilize and lose relevance. And deservedly so.
SI.com: Would you continue with the show if one of the two hosts (Tony or Mike) were no longer involved?
Rydholm: Depends. Which one? But seriously folks, we do 40-50 shows without one or the other every year. Good shows and sometimes really good shows. But shows involving Tony and Mike are special. Would prefer not to contemplate this possibility.
SI.com: An observation that I'd like your take on: When PTI started it had a decidedly anti-establishment feel regarding the opinions of the hosts. Over the years, as Tony and Mike have become larger parts of the sports media establishment, some of their opinions have become more establishment, especially with Mike and the NBA. Perhaps that's inevitable when print writers' stars rise from television fame. How would you evaluate the take above, and if full of blarney, feel free to call me out on it?
Rydholm: Not sure whether we were more anti-establishment or whether people simply weren't used to hearing such vocal criticism on TV. There's been an explosion in sports criticism over the last ten years, so their opinions don't stand as alone as they once did. As to bias, bias is inherent to what we do -- it's the POINT of what we do. As Mike has said, he readily admits his biases and he's paid to express and justify them. What's interesting and occasionally amusing to me is that sometimes these biases are produced by the relationship dynamic -- each has taken some positions in part to counter/balance/challenge the other's biases. When I'm doing my job, I'm getting them to focus on the particulars of a specific case rather than than having them fall back on generalities.
Specifically to the NBA - you should ask Mike. From my perspective (which no one asked for) we're obviously in a nasty lockout now, but if you look at where the league was in late 2001 to where it was in June 2011, pretty tough to maintain that there wasn't some serious progress in the compellingness (invented word!) of the product.
SI.com: How would you characterize ESPN's commitment to PTI heading forward?
Rydholm: Unless you know something I don't, ESPN is and has always been extraordinarily hands-off and supportive. But in part, we've earned that trust and independence with our performance/ratings. If PTI begins to lag in a glaring way, that will and should change. Will we be celebrating our 20th birthday in 2021? I personally suspect that the changing structure of television and how people watch it could have a significant impact on that. But right now, my fondest hope is that on this day 10 years hence, I'm writing a bald joke open for Mike and Tony and leading the show with their analysis of the Cubs' 10th straight World Series title.