ESPN making strides with revamped NBA pregame; Fox's new NFL team
Let's start with what ESPN's
"The more TV you do with the same people, the better you get at setting them up, knowing what will make them react or laugh, knowing when you can jump in, and so on," Simmons said. "Also, I got better at TV as the season went along and I think that helped us too. I had only done like 15 PTI's [
Along with Simmons and Rose -- who replaced Chris Broussard and Jon Barry -- the show brought in a new coordinating producer, Amina Hussein, who had previously produced ESPN's
"I think we had to work on chemistry and obviously that takes time," Hussein said. "But we are hitting our stride at the right time. As far as our strengths, I think we have four dynamic personalities. Every guy has strong opinions and is not afraid to debate with each other and mix it up. They all have a different perspective based on their experience."
"I'd like to see us take more chances," Simmons said. "I never wanted to do a traditional studio show and I never wanted us to feel like every other ESPN studio show. I should also mention that I've poked fun of the faults of studio shows more than just about anybody, so it's funny to be on the other side. Maybe that's impossible and maybe I am na�ve, but I expected us to push the envelope a lot more. And I hope we will down the road.
"I also think ESPN can help us more by giving us a better chance to succeed. For instance, they sent us to the Western Conference finals, which was awesome, but we ended up doing four minutes of postgame after every game, and that's because SportsCenter took precedent over us. That was a little sobering. TNT's biggest advantage against us other than Barkley is the massive chunk of time those guys are given. They love that show and they want it to succeed more than anything else they do. You saw what happened to Barkley in March Madness when CBS stuck him on a five-man panel and didn't give them enough time. Suddenly he wasn't Barkley anymore. I don't think people realize how important time is with studio shows. Especially when you have four people."
Hussein is asked often about the comparisons between her show and Inside The NBA but like most of her staffers, she doesn't see them as competition. "We all have the same goal and that's to promote the NBA and the league," she said. "I am a basketball fan so I watch their show a lot and I'm not looking at them from a production standpoint: I watch them as a basketball fan. I'm not going to say whether [the comparisons] are fair or not but it is definitely expected. We are both pregame shows that lead into matchups, but I think we are a totally different show. They have Ernie and Charles Barkley. We don't."
Hussein said on game days her on-air group will arrive two hours before the start of the show -- Hussein gets in around 9:00 a.m. -- and a meeting takes place between producers and talent to discuss the show's rundown. Things often get tweaked depending on whether someone has a particular passion for a subject. Hussein said she hopes SportsCenter will use her group extensively following the conclusion of the Finals game. Her staff will attempt to get players to come on set, something TNT has done to fantastic success. (I still have Shaquille O'Neal singing "Birdman, Birdman" in my head.)
Hussein said she thinks
ESPN senior management said it is pleased with
Asked how confident she was this would be the quartet next season, Hussein said, "I feel pretty good about it. Right now I am focused on the Finals but I love these guys."
The Noise Report
(SI.com examines some of the more notable sports media stories of the past week.)
1. SI.com has learned Fox Sports has constructed a new NFL announcing team for the 2013 season. SportsNet New York broadcaster Kevin Burkhardt will call play by play with current Fox Sports staffer John Lynch serving as his analyst. (Credit
The broadcasting depth for the
1a. Eric Mangini's second act as an ESPN broadcaster was a very good one. He brought intellect and thoughtfulness to his analysis during his two years in Bristol. Television also allowed him to re-invent his public persona of the tight-lipped coach we saw all too often with the Cleveland Browns and New York Jets. News broke over the weekend Mangini accepted a job with the San Francisco 49ers as the team's senior offensive consultant. He was a smart, outside-the-box hire by Seth Markman, who oversees ESPN's NFL studio shows, and he'll be missed by many viewers. "We were very impressed with Eric's overall growth as an analyst," Markman said. "He sees the game like few people do and was able to share his unique insight with fans in a way that likely pleasantly surprised people who had a certain perception of him as a coach. Our door would always be open to him, but he belongs on the NFL sidelines."
2. On the issue of whether he expected to return to
2b. Hussein said discussions about on-air staffing for next season would happen a couple of weeks after the conclusion of the NBA Finals. She said such conversations would occur with Wildhack and Mark Gross, a senior vice president & executive producer at ESPN and Hussein's immediate supervisor.
2c. What does Simmons think of
2d. I asked Hussein why not having a traditional host was a good fit for
2e. Hussein said she collaborated with senior management about the
3. How did Fox Sports management view the first year of Gus Johnson's world football broadcasting journey? "I think that it was pretty much as expected as far as what Gus and I talked about before he took on this challenge," Shanks said. "It was going to be a work in progress. It was going to be tough. He was going to be criticized from all sides but he was going to put his nose down and work to get better every game. We paired him with different people -- at least three different analysts during the season -- and he was finding his way with each individual guy. The constant and consistent improvement comes in finding the pace of the game and I believe in the Champions League final, he found the pace of the game. He is committed to continuing to get better and we will continue to work at it."
3a. Shanks said Fox is still working on naming a full-time analyst for Johnson. "I think we will probably take a look at tapes and talk to Gus because a big part is how much comfort does Gus have with this person," Shanks said. "The goal is to land on a consistent person for next season."
4. Even if it often uses the program as a public relations counter to the network's 'embrace debate' and bloviating nonsense, ESPN's commitment to its
As a ratings play,
Asked what story OTL will focus on most heading forward, Bray cited the concussion issue in the NFL. (ESPN has a collaboration with PBS's Frontline and Crown Books on the topic.) "That's a story we really want to own," Bray said. "I don't talk a lot about wanting to own a story but the concussion issue in football to me is the single most important topic we deal with. I would say number two would be everything going on with the NCAA. What is going to happen to college football, college basketball and to (NCAA president) Mark Emmert's future? That's another very important topic we are game-planning around."
I asked Bray what he thought of ESPN President John Skipper's recent comments to SI.com about how the show handled the Jason Collins announcement. (Said Skipper: "I think we did great other than we made one mistake: The mistake was not being more careful with Chris Broussard [on
Bray said he agreed (probably smartly) with his boss's take. "Chris is a dear friend of mine, and we are actually both from the same city -- Cleveland," Bray said. "Chris is a reporter and answered the question he was asked, but Chris's role here is as a reporter."
5. NBC Sports should be concerned by the English Premier League's declining ratings in the U.S. According to
6. Baseball's draft doesn't produce the same fervor among television viewers as the NFL and NBA Drafts but MLB Network continues to add to its coverage of the event. The 2013 MLB First-Year Player Draft will be aired live on the network (and MLB.com) on Thursday at 7:00 p.m. ET and MLB Network will also have a draft preview show at 6 p.m. ET. An MLB Network spokeswoman said MLB Network's live coverage Thursday will feature interviews with front office personnel and representatives, footage from team draft rooms, and interviews with prospects and newly drafted players.
7. Among the memorable pieces this week:
? A group of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism students profiled some of the 4,000 former NFL players who are suing the league for neglecting to tell them about the dangers of blows to the head and hiding evidence that linked head trauma with long-term brain damage.
? ESPN writer Kate Fagan had a fantastic profile of WNBA player Brittney Griner.
? SI's Tom Verducci says it's time for a new approach to the closer role.
? Science Daily says for professional bloviators such as Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith, it's better to be confident than correct.
? If you love great profile writing,
? Alex Belth's "The Stacks" feature on Deadspin highlights some of the best sportswriting of the past 100 years, including Jimmy Breslin, Red Smith and Richard Ben Cramer.
8. NBC Sports Network drew 3.4 million viewers for its coverage of the Blackhawks-Red Wings Western Conference semifinal Game 7, the network's third most-viewed NHL game ever. (The network's most-viewed NHL game remains Game 3 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final between the Blackhawks and Flyers. That game drew 3.6 million.)
10a. ESPN will air a one-hour special on Vince Lombardi on Thursday at 9 p.m. ET. The program,
10b. The Big Lead website reported Fox Sports hired longtime NFL cornerback Ronde Barber to work on Fox Sports 1. Barber retired last month after 16 years in the NFL.
10c. The Golf Channel averaged 133,000 viewers for the month of May, a 19-percent increase over the previous May (112,000 viewers) and a 58-percent increase over May 2011 (84,000 viewers).
10d. Golf fans: This press release highlights the NBC and Golf Channel coverage from this year's U.S. Open from Merion Golf Club.
10e. I'm not sure what ESPN golf analyst Paul Azinger was thinking here, outside of not thinking.
10e. NBC Sports is creating a summer series around its
10f. Pro Football Weekly, you will be missed.