Mark Gross says that Michelle Beadle filling in for Sage Steele last Friday and Sunday on NBA Countdown was not an audition for future NBA hosting on ESPN.
"None of it was an audition," says Gross, an ESPN senior vice president for production who made the assignment.
Of course it was an audition.
Why? Because everything is an audition in sports television in some sense. Last week Beadle served as a sub for Steele, Countdown's normal host, when Steele had family commitments back on the East Coast including her daughter's communion. The reviews for Beadle, via social media and in-house, were very strong. She proved a nice fit with analysts Doug Collins, Jalen Rose and Bill Simmons.
"I thought she did a terrific job and I was not surprised because she is a unique talent who can do a lot of different things ranging from what she was doing with us before she went to NBC to what she did at NBC to the Hollywood shows to the Olympics and now back on SportsNation," Gross said. "She fit right in on Countdown. She's versatile, she's fun, she's knowledgeable and it worked out well."
Does this mean Beadle will be replacing Steele? Not at all. Steele signed a multiyear extension last year with ESPN for big money and the company likes her work. Management would also like to get some continuity with Countdown, a show that has changed its on-air staff at about the same rate Leo Messi nets goals. Now, if Steele has other interests beyond sports or wants to return to a fulltime job back on the East Coast, things could change. But when we spoke last October, she was committed to making the show work from Los Angeles.
What about Doris Burke, you ask? Burke served as the Countdown host on Wednesdays this season with Rose and Avery Johnson, her first experience as a traditional host. It was a solid debut, though hosting is not Burke's strength. She remains ESPN's best sideline reporter and a strong analyst on both the NBA and college basketball. Again, we give the floor to Mr. Gross, who was kind enough to talk to SI.com on Sunday from the AT&T Center in San Antonio.
"Sage did a terrific job on her days and she is our host," Gross said. "And we'd love to have Doris come back and do Wednesdays next year. She was terrific. We haven't even got to next year. But to answer your question: You asked if this was an audition of sorts and I would say no it really wasn't an audition of sorts. We are fortunate that we have Doris and Sage and Michelle was able to fill in. My hope is we would keep the team together on Wednesdays with Doris, Jalen and Avery and keep the team together on Fridays and Sundays with Sage, Bill, Doug and Jalen."
There's no reason not to believe Gross, even though similar love was passed on last year about the Magic Johnson/Michael Wilbon crew.
But there's also no doubt that CAA, which reps both Beadle and Steele along with a squadron of other ESPN talent (from Rece Davis to Tim Tebow) would love to affix its client in a hosting role beyond SportsNation. Beadle performed well on a property ESPN considers a big stage so she has positioned herself, if nothing else, to be the first backup for Steele and Burke. (Worth noting is that ESPN's three NBA studio show hosts this year are women 38 years old or over. Are you seeing that elsewhere in sports television? Nope. Props to ESPN.)
I asked Gross how hard broadcast agents push management to place talent on certain shows. "I do talk to agents and generally speaking about all agents, and not just the folks at CAA, they don't talk specific shows but different opportunities and what opportunities might exist," Gross said. "It's more about what other opportunities across the company might be a good fit."
It's possible Gross has been fortunate because broadcast agents definitely try to place their clients in specific shows on sports television, with some having success and others not so much.
What role does Gross see Beadle having at ESPN heading forward?
"I don't have SportsNation under my umbrella but from where I sit, I think she has a big-time future at ESPN and there are other shows out there that might be able to benefit from having her presence on the show," Gross said. "Her NBA work only confirmed to me that she is a special talent. She is firmly on the radar on everybody at the company."
The Noise Report
SI.com examines some of the more notable sports media stories of the past week:
1. What do the networks think of the potential of a four-day NFL Draft? "We like the idea when you just hear it out loud but we just have to get the research together," said NFL Network executive producer Eric Weinberger. "There is definitely enough content to do a round a night but then you have to look at the [ratings] numbers. If the fourth round is on Sunday, what is it up against it? We have seen a lot of growth at NFL Network on Day Three ratings-wise so by separating rounds 4 and 5 and 6 and 7, would Rounds 6 and 7 go flat? I don't know. But from a content perspective, there is enough content.
1a. Here's how ESPN and the NFL Network will cover the NFL Draft.
1b. The NFL Network will have 16 cameras inside NFL team facilities for the draft -- the most ever for the network.
2. Through Monday night NBC NHL analyst Pierre McGuire had worked 20 Stanley Cup postseason games in 20 days, a schedule that included games from seven different cities, four overtime games, and more than 6,000 miles traveled.
2a. MLB Network has paneled together a group of baseball voices to discuss the rise of pitching-related injuries. The roundtable includes MLB Network's Bob Costas, Jim Kaat, John Smoltz and Tom Verducci, orthopedic surgeon and New York Mets medical director Dr. David Altchek, and pitching expert Tom House. Dr. James Andrews will also appear. The one-hour (MLB Network Roundtable: The Pitching Dilemma) will air Saturday at 4pm ET and re-air on Sunday at 10pm ET
3. NBC's coverage of California Chrome's Kentucky Derby win drew 15.3 million viewers, down from the 16.2 million that watched Orb win last year but up three percent from 2012 (14.8 million), the last time the Derby faced head-to-head competition from the NBA playoffs. Louisville was the top-rated market followed by Ft. Myers-Naples, West Palm Beach, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Boston, Columbus, Orlando, Tampa-St. Pete and Indianapolis.
3a. NBC and Golf Channel will air a one-hour film on the late golfer Payne Stewart on June 8 at 5 p.m. ET on NBC and June 9 at 10 p.m. ET on Golf Channel.
3b. Brewers television play-by-play announcer Brian Anderson, who also calls postseason baseball and the NBA for Turner Sports, sent along this thoughtful email:
"I'm sitting in a hotel in Indianapolis watching NBA hoops, saw Michelle Beadle on ESPN and wanted to share a story. I appreciate that you occasionally give props to great people behind the scenes and Mike Kickirillo is the longtime TV director for the Spurs. He started an intern program in 1992 and there are currently four former "Kick-interns" working at a network level for the NBA playoffs this year: 1. Michele Beadle; 2. Keith Keller, Robo-cam operator (and one of the absolute best) for Turner and ABC/ESPN; 3. Nathan Peck, EVS operator (also one of the best in biz) on ABC's lead NBA crew; and 4. Me. I was his first intern, starting as a handheld cameraman. The Spurs' lead producer for FSSW, Daniel Ashcraft, is also a former intern.
Kick gave us all our start in the business. He was never afraid to put us in the mix even as we struggled. He had a plan for everyone and took the time to train and develop us on live TV, something you could never do in a big market. He put Beadle and I on the air for the first time (and we sucked), spent hours teaching us the craft and helped assemble and edit our early demo reels. I still call him before big games. As a matter of fact, I wanted to quit many times and just do handheld. It was way more lucrative than Minor League baseball. Kick always pushed me, and created opportunities for me to continue working on air. He's a talented game director in his own right but has spent two decades making dreams come true for others. We all love him and owe much of our livelihoods to him."