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Bomani Jones & Pablo Torre Haven’t Had a Bad Day Yet

Demetri Ravanos

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Bomani Jones and Pablo Torre relaunched one of the most unique shows on ESPN earlier this week. After debuting to critical acclaim (including my own) back in June, High Noon moved from noon to 4pm. The show also went from one hour to a thirty-minute run time.

That second part has been the source of much speculation by people in the sports media. Did ESPN see a problem with the show? Is this step one on the road to an early cancellation?

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Well, the answer to questions stemming from part 2 are probably answered by part 1. ESPN isn’t moving High Noon to a more viewed time slot if the network were preparing to cancel the show. Also, there is no real way to judge the show’s mass appeal to date.

High Noon was launched in June with no promotion outside of a social media campaign targeted at people that are already fans of the hosts. It’s smart to inform the people that will be your core, but they were hardly the ones that needed any selling. If we’re being fair to High Noon, we’ll start judging its performance now that the show is in more prime programming real estate, kicking off ESPN’s afternoon block which also includes Highly QuestionableAround the Horn, and Pardon the Interruption.

I went to New York to meet with Pablo and Bomani, who I have known for the better part of 12 years, at ESPN’s new South Street Seaport studios. We talked about the show, its naysayers, how they learned to have conversations on TV, and a show all three of us liked, but only two of us have been on (HINT: I am not one of those two), Desus and Mero.

D: Is the story that I have heard true where ESPN asked each of you who you would want to do a show with independently of each other and you both named the other?

B: Close enough.

P: I think so. I actually don’t really remember the true moment that this was broached, but it was something I wanted. As someone without a show at the time, with the number one pick in the fantasy draft I would have taken Bo. That was my thought. I am not sure when I communicated that to someone, but that is how I felt for a while.

D: And what was the pitch of the show or what was it about this show that made you, Bomani, say “Okay, I am leaving Highly Questionable and I am leaving Miami. This is the path forward”?

B: I needed to leave Highly Questionable. I had done it for four years. I signed a four-year contract to do that in the beginning and that was over. It was time for me to do something else. It was really good while I was doing it. It’s not like it went sour. It was just time for me to do something else.

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At least for me, in trying to figure out who I could work well with – that’s the difficult thing. I do radio by myself. You can’t do television by yourself. That would be incredibly difficult. It was about who fit the sensibilities I had and who could keep up with the places I might want to go from time to time. I don’t even think I had a number two, to be honest.

D: You mention how you do radio, and I’ve always thought you were really good in the way you can bounce from one sport to another and then maybe off sports entirely before bringing it back to the sport we started on. It seems like that has translated really well so far for this show, and I wonder if that is where some of the pushback has come from people that say this isn’t the ESPN they know or this isn’t what sports media is supposed to be.

B: The problem with that is I don’t have any evidence that the people with the harshest public push back on this show have ever really watched it.

P: Yes!

B: So I don’t know if there is any factual basis. Maybe that is all there followers need. 

As for the show though, we may meander, but it’s rare we’re going off of sports. We may meander a bit in the way the sports are described, but I do sports shows. I have always done sports shows. I can go do other stuff other places. I don’t have to do that here.

P: I think one of the things I have enjoyed about our show, is I would say people that have done any sort of quantitative analysis will find that we have “stuck to sports” overwhelmingly, but what we have been doing is interjecting about ourselves. There’s a lot of our life in the show, and that’s not so much politics or social issues or…

D: Right. It’s like the build up to the show with the campaign you did on social media with pictures of y’all as kids. 

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P: Precisely. It’s about getting to know us as people and the three-dimensionality of Bomani and me. That is what is new to me. Bo has been doing a three hour radio show forever that is so die-hard sports, and I have 400 episodes of Around the Horn under my belt, which are right down the middle and in the sports wheelhouse, but within that context are where we can have fun.

D: Does Clay Travis calling High Noon “Woke Center” bother you at all?  

B: No. I mean, what else would I expect to happen? I have a general frustration with some of that ilk of pushback, because it has no factual basis.

P: They’re professional trolls, and so I strive to deaden my senses to that. I know a criticism like that doesn’t come from a place of evaluation or honesty. I don’t care, but if you watch our show and say “I don’t like this specific thing,” I will absolutely listen to a critique. We just don’t get that.

B: Yeah. He is absolutely allowed to feel the way he feels. I want to be absolutely clear about that. Where it gets to be weird to me is I have been doing this for a long time now. 

I did local radio in North Carolina. I did that satellite show for a Canadian company. I can’t say the audience was primarily Canadian, but those were the people that called me up. I played just fine with these people in these places. We can go back and listen to some of the voicemails from these places in 2008, keeping in mind that 2008-2009 was the summer of Obama.

We can listen to some of the people that were calling up and listening. I am just not convinced that all of “those people” have such a huge problem with what it is we do. I don’t believe that. I think they are fully capable of enjoying what we do. I think there are some cynical people that approach those folks with assumption that they can’t and then feed them these things from there.

I guess if you decide that’s what your hustle’s gonna be, that’s the decision you’re going to ultimately make. I think with those people though, we’re going to be just fine, because we do good work.

P: I would also point out that we’ve done…how many shows since June 4? And how many headlines have been generated from us crossing some sort of line? None, because if you watch the show, you see that we are doing good shows and staying squarely within the mandate given to us by a sports television company.

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If you really think there is anything Woke Center-y about it, as much as I resist that term for its lack of cleverness, where is the meat on the bone? Give me something! There is no critique. I’m happy to listen if you’ll give me that.

D: When I wrote that piece about the first show and active listening, you (Pablo) reached out to me on Twitter. You (Bomani) sent me a text. Your producer reached out to me on Twitter. Everyone said the same thing, that that was going to be a goal of the show. 

What were the conversations like where you are talking about not what will be said on the show, but about how you’ll hear it.

B: There’s a big difference between this show and any other show. It’s you’re on the screen at all times.

D: Is that intimidating at all?

B: No. It takes some getting used to. I also had that do a degree with Highly Questionable. It’s a two-camera shoot. It’s always down-barrel. 

I used to get hell all the time from people about not paying attention during the interviews. It’s not that I wasn’t paying attention. I was absolutely the sidekick on the interviews. I was sitting there looking for an opening to say something. If time was tight, there may be a whole interview where I only ask 2 questions. That’s what the role was.

It did make me kind of attuned to the fact that people are going to be reading your face as you go. Now, my face goes in all kinds of directions, so I have to turn it on or turn it off. With this show it was “okay, ride with it.” You go with whatever the direction is because that’s going to be a big part of this. It’s going to be on the screen. 

I didn’t really even have a full grasp on it until a little bit of doing this. I saw the effect it has on screen as the other person is saying and doing things. Then it becomes a great device for us, at least personally for me, because (Pablo) says enough absurd shit that allows me to put this face on the road.

P: Yes! We want that. I will speak for Erik (Rydholm, High Noon’s creator and producer) as well. We want Bomani’s faces. We want that expression to come through.

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There’s two things I think to active listening. There’s the performance of listening, which is what Bo is talking about. It’s the theater of listening. Look at Stephen A (Smith) and Max (Kellerman) and Skip (Bayless). That’s what those guys are all really good at. The other part is really listening, which is different.

I would come in and had prepared all of these notes. They would be printed out and I would think “These are my bullet points. Worst case scenario I can fall back on these.” Tony Kornheiser has a long-form legal pad with handwritten notes. I learned from him. That’s his deal. Bo has instilled in me the desire to not use notes so I can just follow the conversation wherever it goes.

D: Was part of the problem with bringing notes that you would react to what he said with “That reminds me *flip, flip flip*”?

P: I just had things I wanted to hit. Around the Horn and other shows I do is so formatted and those beats and the timing are so important. Whereas our show wants to be free flowing and follow those digressions you mentioned. 

So, if he says something that is interesting and not what I anticipated, I am more likely to follow that and play on that. That is how we get to these spontaneous and cool conversations and moments.

B: Plus, you don’t always hear what is said. That’s a natural thing with anybody in a situation like that. If you’re thinking about what you are going to say, that is a dominant activity that makes it difficult to keep up with everything that is going on, and you can mess around and say something that has already been said.

It’s a matter of he don’t need notes to talk to me on a regular basis, so I don’t think he need no notes to talk to me here. 

P: And that is absolutely right. I have no good answer to that. It was a crutch ultimately. 

In other formats it makes sense. I totally respect it, but with this…

B: That’s the thing. We’re both coming from television formats that don’t require a whole lot of interacting with anybody else. I got into this doing a lot of Outside the Lines and Around the Horn. Even with Highly Questionable. You never look side-to-side. Highly Questionable is always looking straight forward.

It’s like baseball in that sense. In baseball you never pass the ball to each other. You swing. I swing. That’s how it goes. 

This is much more back-and-forth. This is all back-and-forth. It’s a much different interaction, and you have to learn to do that. That’s a process that I am certainly going through and trying to figure out.

D: That’s funny to talk about Around the Horn as not being really interactive, because I think about my favorite clip from Around the Horn and I think it was one of those outtakes that made its way to YouTube. 

I think both of you were in it, but Bo, I know you were featured more prominently. It’s the clip where you are shouting at Bill Plaschke for liking Church’s Fried Chicken. As interactive as that clip seems, you’re right. Bill is in LA. You were in Miami. Everyone is just looking into a camera. 

B: There’s another difference too with Around the Horn. I did that show for eight years, which is crazy to look back on. 

I didn’t know any of those people. I knew JA Adande and I knew Michael Smith, but I didn’t know anybody else. I didn’t grow up on the beat or on the road around those people. Pablo, when you started you at least knew like Bob Ryan, right?

P: Yeah, through various reporting things and The Sports Reporters I had encountered a couple of them.

B: Right. And see, when I started doing Highly Questionable, I didn’t even know Dan (Le Batard). The math is not exact, but I have basically known Dan as long as I have known Pablo. The difference is I started doing a TV show with Dan on day 1. I started doing a TV show with Pablo five years later. 

I don’t know how many people are on TV now, Jemele and Michael would have fit this example, but I don’t know how many people are doing a show with someone they have been cool with for a long time.

P: Well, PTI.

D: That was the only one I can think of.

B: Even then though, with PTI, those guys are really cool with each other, but it was born from working in the same place. That is different from how we’re cool with each other. That we work in the same place is how we know each other, but that’s not the basis for the relationship. That is different than anybody else that has a show.

D: Are there different elements of PTI and then the “Embrace Debate” era of ESPN shows that laid the ground work for a show like High Noon to exist?

P: Well, we have the producer that made those shows.

B: He made PTI. We can’t give him First Take.

P: Right. Bill Wolf, whose office we are sitting in, gets credit for Around the Horn.

B: I would make the argument that our show is more First Take. There may not be as much argumentative interaction, but our show is more First Take than PTI, at least in the hour format. It gave us the breadth of the topics and we had the time to dive in. PTI is much more specifically formatted. 

See, I like the format of PTI, and we try to incorporate some of that in ways that we can into the show. The features are simple but they’re cool. They’re simple but they’re fun. First Take doesn’t have anything like our “Names, Lines, and Numbers” segment. PTI is much more like that.

P: As we go to the thirty-minute format, a lesson we will take from PTI is how to handle variety and also give us time on topics. So, for instance, PTI’s “Big Finish” goes “bop bop bop bop bop bop bop”. We’re not going to do that. 

We’re going to give ourselves time to breathe because of everything we just said about the relationship and the following of digressions. Our mandate for the thirty-minute format is to learn the lessons of PTI while also being ourselves.

As much as I love PTI and regard it as the gold standard, we are trying to do something that is true to us.

B: Right. The other thing I would say is all those guys in the production room worked on Highly Questionable. I did Highly Questionable for four years. The liberating thing about that show and the most important thing I picked up was the importance of demonstrating to the audience that you are having a good time.

HQ was a good time. When I stopped doing that show…There was about a year between me leaving Highly Questionable and starting this show.  There was a noticeable effect on my life in that I had lost five days a week of fun and replaced it with nothing. 

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What we are doing here is having fun and we’re trying to put that on the screen as much as possible. We’ve been doing this now for what? Like 3 months? Has there been a bad day?

P: No.

B: No one has come in with an attitude or had people talking like “hey, we gotta play it easy with this person”. I can’t think of a time or a day where there isn’t laughing throughout this.

P: And we understand each other. So when there are moments of tension on screen, we know at the end of the day that we are cool. Part of the fun of the TV show is you get to be a heightened version of yourself, but ultimately we know we’re cool and we’re going to land in the same place. 

That means usually there are no bad days. That’s the accessibility of it. Our bet is if you see us on screen having fun, you would like to join in on that. 

D: You guys haven’t done a guest or brought in a third voice on any shows, right?

P: Yes. Right.

D: I am not faulting any shows that do add a third voice or bring in a new voice from time to time, but that is probably a tribute to your chemistry that you can keep this thing rolling and stay entertaining without having to do that. 

B: I don’t think that our show, particularly in the half hour format is conducive to bringing in our guest. I mean, I think there are people that would be really good. (Dominique) Foxworth would be good.

P: Yeah. Mina (Kimes). I mean there is a roster of people that we like and respect.

B: Right, but this show isn’t built to have someone come in and give you a draft breakdown. That’s not really the way that we are doing this as of right now. That is a bit different than the way the other shows on the network are formatted.

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D: Was it last week you had Spencer Hall on your podcast to talk college football?

B: Yes.

D: Right, so you and Spencer clearly get along and he seems like a guy that can roll, but bringing him in would be doing a very different thing than what makes High Noon worth watching. 

P: I think if we were going to do a guest segment, we would have done it in our hour-long format where the D-block was “This Blank Story”. It was a four minute piece on one thing. That theoretically could have been a guest, but we just enjoyed getting deep into stuff.

Our challenge and our task is how do you bring that into a thirty minute show. Maybe we’ll bring it back for certain times when it is called for, but our inclination is to just talk to each other more. That’s what’s entertaining…to me at least.

D: So when you find out you’re moving to 4pm and the show is going to thirty minutes, was there a panic at all because of what you had built, or…well, what do you feel about it?

B: I used to work the noon shift. Now I work at 4. By and large it wasn’t a signal from the company about anything negative.

P: It was the opposite actually.

B: Right, but even if it wasn’t, what am I going to say? “No I’m not”? 

The way I keep describing the move is if they had said in the beginning of this whole process all of the things they had said in the lead up to giving us our own show and then instead of saying “it will air from noon until one” they said “it will air from 4 to 4:30,” who is saying no? Nobody is saying no! It’s not a change in that way.

P: The other thing there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the way linear television works. That 4pm time slot is really good. Just on the facts, right? That is a good place to be.

To me, this is where we would have wanted to go eventually: deeper into the schedule, closer to PTI, all that linear TV stuff. So the thirty minute thing, I will miss the hour, but all of the shows I respect the most are PTI, Around the Horn, and HQ.

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D: They’re all 30 minute shows.

P: Right. I can’t be insulted by that.

B: I’ll tell you this too. We did a thirty-minute rehearsal the other day and Wooo! I enjoyed that a lot more than doing an hour. 

P: There is a lot of fun to be had in thirty minutes.

D: I never understood the narrative that this was ESPN panicking over the show. Like you said, the biggest shows are all thirty minutes. 

B: Well, I think that if you are not particularly informed about the way this business operates, this starts and then there is a change. I would understand why someone who is not informed with how this business operates would perceive that a change in the way this operates is the result of a problem with the way this thing currently exists. 

I don’t blame the people who don’t know anything about the business for saying that. I do blame people who purport to know something about the business and then say that. That is the difference.

P: And by the way, there are plenty of “viewers” that consume the show as a podcast. Let’s say you are one off those people that listens to us and loves us at an hour. You’re going to miss those extra thirty minutes.

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God bless that person. I love that person. That is exactly how I want you to feel. But we’re going to prove that you will also love us in this format. 

That’s the only demographic that I truly care about is the person that loves us and is now getting less of us on a daily basis.

B: Look, it’s going to be, in some ways, a different show just by nature of the time constraint. We’re going to have to be a little punchier. We’re going to have to get to the point a little quicker with opinions that are a little bit stronger.

We’re going to have the challenge of going back and rereading our initial press release. Some of the adjectives we use and things we said we want the show to be, we still want the show to be in this format, but like I said before, what are we saying? “How dare you demote us to the status of struggling programs like Pardon the Interruption”?

P: Right, and now our lead in is The Jump. We are the lead in to Highly Questionable. To me, if there was any problem, the network probably isn’t putting us in that slot. Why would you give us better real estate if there is a problem.

B: Also, given the way our industry is covered by people, if there was a problem with our show, you’d have heard about it by now, or at the very least we would have been told.

P: Again, where is the meat on the bone?

B: And to be fair, I don’t even think there are a lot of people that have tried to make that argument. I think that is something that people said for like a day and then went on about. Look, we’ve been doing this show for 2 or 3 months. There are a lot of people that don’t even know this show exists yet.

That has nothing to do with us. Anybody that has ever tried to get a show up off the ground knows there’s a day where people just turn it on and “yo, there’s this thing here” and they don’t know what it is. They just react to the presence of the thing. 

Then maybe a couple of days later they come back and they leave the thing on. But first they have to find the thing, because there are a lot of people right now that are going to turn on their TVs at 4pm on September 11 and don’t know what the thing is.

D: I hadn’t even thought of the people that will turn on their TVs on September 11 and to them there is this new show with Bomani and Pablo on.

P: And the odds are there will be more of those people than there were for the previous slot.

B: This show didn’t get a massive PR campaign. You can talk about seeing that stuff on Twitter, but what’s the reach right?

P: That’s our audience already.

B: There was no television campaign that was pushed. There are going to be people from now until next Septmeber asking friends “Do you know what this new show is?”. I have people stop me on the street still and tell me  “I love Highly Questionable. I watch it all the time.” Well, I haven’t been on there in a year and a half. 

D: What has the prep been like in changing over from an hour to thirty minutes? 

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B: It’s the same thing with less topics.

P: Yeah.

D: So that’s going to be the strategy?

B: Well, here’s what I’ll say and you tell me if I am wrong here. I don’t think our prep, especially the night-before-prep isn’t that different. 

We’ve got a Google Doc. Ryan and those guys put topics in the Google Doc. We add our comments to those topics. We get here and it’s been arranged into the place they want it to be.

What I feel like is happening now is it’s the same number of things that it was before. It’s just in the end, there are only half of them. 

P: Before, with an hour, we could wander around more. Some of my favorite things are things I did not anticipate, because of the active listening that we talked about earlier. 

Now we have to make sure that if we have the sense that something is going to be really good, we have to elevate it and make sure it makes the thirty-minute version. That’s something we’re going to have to feel out. It’s not going to be perfect, but the big difference is we have to make sure we’re getting the cream of the crop. Let’s just make sure we’re getting the cream and not just the dutiful “here are the biggest stories.”

B: Filling an hour is a monster, right? 

P: Right. We were doing 18-20 topics per day.

B: Yeah. I’m used to programming the radio show.

D: Right, where you can come back to the same three or four topics in a day. 

B: Sure, you can come back, but you still have to fill three or four hours. The question for me becomes “do I have 11 minutes in me?” 

In the hour format the question we were always asking was “do we have 2 and a half minutes?”. See, with television you don’t have to go as deep, because you go quickly, but you do have to do more of them. 

It’s a lot easier to do this on that thirty-minute show than it was on a one hour show. There would be times on that one hour show where every now and then we’re looking around offscreen like “Yo ma, which one of y’all got that bell? Where’s the bell? Why haven’t I heard a bell?”.

P: I have definitely called for the bell. By the way, it works great on TV as a device, but our task is to make sure we are hitting our marks more than before.

D: So having at most two-and-a-half minutes a topic, with Bo coming from radio and both of you having a background in print, did you know how to do that or did you have to learn by failing? Were you instantly ready for the difference between preparing a topic for TV vs. preparing a topic for a different medium? 

P: I would say I got my graduate degree in substitute hosting. I have been a guest host everywhere, so I got to try out various versions of what my two-and-a-half minutes would look like. I would say that it is easier for me know absolutely. 

Going back to the longhand written notes. It’s word economy. I would say doing Around the Horn is more stressful than doing our show, because I have x amount of time, and I want to make these points, and I may or may not get the ball back. I may or may not get muted. There are so many more variables. 

With this, because we have that established relationship, I wasn’t wrong-footed by that in the same way. Going into this show I had enough preparation for how long I wanted to say things, and how I wanted to say them. Obviously I am not a finished product. I am still feeling it out, but there’s very little terror in me in terms of that.

D: There’s less of a desire to say or think “and let me add this…” when you’re turn is over.

P: Right. We’re having conversations about when to get out on things in the thirty-minute format. Before, with an hour we would just sort of talk into a fade-out. Now we have discussions on how to wrap and when to obey that bell.

B: The trick is knowing whether what you’re saying is worth hearing. We’ve all done that where we start down a topic and in your head you realize “No. That’s not it.” 

For me, that is where HQ was really helpful. Knowing that you’ve got an out. Somebody says something and BOOM! We stop right there. Because while you’re listening to hear if there is an out, you also have to be listening to hear if there is not an out.

With HQ it probably took us a year or a year and a half to get to the point, well, at least for me, to get to the point of knowing “Nope. We didn’t need to put anything in there. I didn’t need to say anything more.”

D: Doing HQ during the same time you’re doing the radio show, or doing the podcast as you’re preparing for this show, do wires ever cross in your head at all?

B: Not really, but I also have faith in the producers. If I need to stop talking, they will tell me. If we need to move on, they will let it be known. You know? Let them do their jobs too.

D: So what is it like working here with this view and in this new studio?

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B: The big thing for me is working with people. I’ve never worked in an office in this way before.

P: Yeah, there are always more people. We came in in May and it was empty. Now it is a thriving metropolis of ESPN employees.

B: And that is cool. There is something to be said for walking out and seeing people everyday. The fun part is seeing who there person might be. There is literally no telling who the person might be from day to day walking up the escalator. 

P: At some point, I became numb to working on some wildly expensive real estate that is right on the waterfront, but this is absurd. In terms of a location, this is a dream. As a native New Yorker, it’s kind of like “Shit! I didn’t realize this was an option!”

B: This is a big difference from the Highly Questionable studio too, where we were just kind of jammed into a corner in the Clevelander. This is an actual workplace.

D: What were your thoughts when they presented the original soundtrack for the show to you before the launch? As a viewer, I thought it was super cool, but I realize I have a film degree and love seeing the way things come together in that way. What were your thoughts when Erik rolled it out to you and then when it got rolled back?

P: I loved it deeply. I liked pushing the genre. I like that it felt cinematic and event-like almost and that it jarred people. 

D: It also gave it that feel that “High Noon” isn’t just a name. We’re embracing everything about the Western genre that we are dabbling in.

P: Totally! Now, the thing that Erik brought up, because he did listen to the response. It was decidedly mixed. A lot of people didn’t like it. 

The criticism that stuck was “it’s distracting from what they are saying.” That’s when, in my opinion, it was like “Oh shit. We gotta change that.”

B: For me, I am so into what I am saying that I didn’t even notice it. It’s still going right? just way lower?

P: It’s lower and I think the track changed, because someone said they were worried one of us was going to get shot.

B: Right, there was one music cue that was way too suspenseful and we were talking about funny stuff over it. What we thought was it was cool because it differentiated us, but we did not want to differentiate just for the sake of doing so. I think we have a show that looks, sounds, and feels like nothing else on the network.

One of the things that is funny to think about with new people discovering the show is there is going to be this whole audience that doesn’t even know that is ever what the show sounded like. It’s like when we went from doing long lead-ins and started playing around with just doing names.

We got decent, quantitative feedback from it and we never went back to the other way again. I don’t know if anyone actually noticed. That’s the thing about doing a show every single day. There are a lot of changes on the fly.

Look man, viewers don’t care so much about the format. They care that they like it. They’re not watching with the eye or ear that we are.

P: We have loyal fans watching on the app. They’re watching in delay on the app where they can’t always see the videos we watch, which is weird because we are laughing and reacting to videos that cannot see, and many of those people seem to enjoy the show regardless of having no idea what we’re looking at. There are people that consume the show via podcast and are missing the entire visual element and the 24 frames per second cinematography, the stuff we enjoy being TV nerds. 

B: They like it or they don’t. In the end that is what it comes down to. We just want to make it easier for them to consume it. I don’t think anyone is looking at the show going “Man, I like it, but then they started putting quotes instead of names in the A-block, and I was out!”

That’s not how this works. One of the things that is interesting to me is there are a small group of people that are into the nuts and bolts and the minutiae of producing sports television, and then there is the other 99.5% of the viewers. They are kind of more important.

D: I know that beyond his experience with sports television, your producer, Erik Ryndholm, helped create Desus and Mero on Viceland. I know you guys are friends with those guys. I think all three of us were fans of the TV show. 

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What are the things that were brought over from that show? What did you see those two doing that you thought could translate to a sports audience as you were seeking to break from that traditional PTI format?

B: Well, one thing to keep in mind here is all those guys that worked behind the scenes on Desus and Mero also worked behind the scenes on Highly Questionable. Now they are all working behind the scenes and sitting right out there.

P: Yeah, that’s them.

B: So, this is more bi-directional than anything else, because don’t work for Vice. Vice affords you certain freedoms. 

P: Right. Very different workplace standards. 

B: It makes sense though if you watch Desus and Mero with Highly Questionable in mind. That’s how it evolved. Those guys all got better in the jobs that they were doing working with them and then brought that back here.

There are definitely influences that go back and forth on that. It’s hard to think of one, clear thing I can really point to.

P: I would say the one thing that I appreciated on HQ, Desus and Mero, and now on our show is watching video and reacting. That is one thing they are really good at and that we enjoy doing.

Yeah, Desus and Mero really traces its coaching tree to Highly Questionable.

D: What I liked about that show is there was no coaching, it seemed, to make Kid Mero’s accent more palatable. He was who he was. 

B: See though, that’s an Erik thing. Like, I remember when we started doing Highly Questionable there would be times early on where I would make some reference where Erik and Matt didn’t quite get it, and they would trust the people behind them to let something go.

We reached a point early where I was comfortable enough to look up at times and say “leave it in.” Like I could read what his face was, and eventually there was more of a trust built up when I would say “just leave it in.”

Erik is not trying to take us out of who we are. Erik is trying to figure out how to accentuate who you are trying to be. That’s what you saw on Desus and Mero. It was Erik thinking “how do we get the most out of this guy just being who he is?”.

P: Yeah, people first is always Erick’s philosophy. Build shows around people as opposed to the other way around, shows that need personalities to fit them.

BSM Writers

Mike Silver Has An NFL Backstage Pass

“When you go through a career transition like that, let alone during a pandemic, you find out a referendum on all your relationships.”

Derek Futterman

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It was the 2010 NFL Draft and standout wide receiver Dez Bryant was eligible to be selected by a professional football team. As a journalist, Mike Silver has always looked to enterprise stories and wanted to be with Bryant when the moment he had been waiting for finally arrived.

Through a preexisting relationship with Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, he got in touch with Bryant and received permission to attend his draft celebration. Before being selected in the first round by the Dallas Cowboys, Bryant revealed to him that then-Miami Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland had asked him during the pre-draft process if his mother was a prostitute.

Once that information was published in Silver’s column, Ireland had to publicly apologize and was subsequently put under investigation by the team’s majority owner Stephen Ross.

“People were like, ‘How did you get that?,’ but I was very proud because really the way I got it was because Deion Sanders respected me enough based on things that had happened decades earlier and the way that I conducted myself that I was able to ultimately get to Dez,” Silver expressed. “That to me is a validation. I’ve nurtured relationships for years and years that have led to zero reporting and thought, ‘It’s okay; it’s just part of the process. It is what it is.’”

From the start, Silver was a believer in journalism and the power the profession had in divulging stories in pursuit of the truth. Born in San Francisco, Calif. and raised in Los Angeles, he would read The Los Angeles Times sports section for a half hour per day, observing the proclivities and vernacular of other writers. As a high school student, he co-authored a sports column in the Palisades Charter High School Tideline with current Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, gaining practical experience in journalism and cultivating professional relationships.

“I was the only Warriors fan in our school because I was born in San Francisco so he used to clown me for being a Warriors and 49ers fan like everyone else in our school – so I ended up having the last laugh,” Silver said. “By old standards, you’d say, ‘You can’t cover Steve Kerr. That’s your friend.’ I think in 2022 if I have to cover Steve Kerr, I’ll just be like, ‘You know what? Everyone knows we’re friends. I’m just going to be up front about it.’”

Silver attended the University of California, Berkeley where he earned his bachelor’s degree in mass communication and media studies. The school was not known for profound levels of success within its football and basketball programs, according to Silver; however, the student newspaper was a place to gain repetitions in covering sports and having finished work published, printed and distributed.

Towards the end of his time in college, Silver wrote stories that were published in The Los Angeles Times, the newspaper he grew up reading and from which he drew inspiration to become a journalist.

“We would tell the players we covered, ‘Hey, we’re trying to go to the pros too, and we’re not going to get jobs in this industry if we don’t write the truth,’” Silver said. “We were trying to break in as legitimate journalists and we definitely ruffled some feathers along the way.”

Once he graduated from school, Silver began his professional career writing for The Sacramento Union where he covered the San Francisco 49ers. Silver grew up as a football fan and was familiar with the team but always tried to find original, untold angles to differentiate his stories from others. Shortly thereafter, he transitioned to join The Santa Clara Press Democrat as a beat writer and used the time to further develop his writing and reporting skills. Five years later, he was in talks to land his dream job as a writer in Sports Illustrated, a prolific sports magazine focused on producing original content.

Sports Illustrated was released on Wednesdays and operated under the belief of trying to omit any stories that may have been reported in the days prior. The goal was to tell stories that were under the radar and would be impactful and memorable for its readers.

During a typical week, Silver would visit both the home and road teams in their own cities with the hopes of connecting with players and team personnel. After a game, he would go to the locker room, yet he would try to avoid doing one-on-one interviews since the content would likely be published elsewhere before the magazine was released.

Then, his writing process commenced and often went through the night, as Sports Illustrated had a 9 a.m. EST deadline the following morning. By taking the approach of enterprising stories, Silver quickly became one of the most venerated and trusted sportswriters in the country, composing over 70 cover stories for the publication.

With the advent of the internet though, journalism and communication was forever changed allowing for the free flow of information and ideas in a timely manner.

“Now I can arrogantly write to whatever length I want and every precious word of mine could be broadcast to the masses, but [back then] you better have it the exact length because it’s going on a page,” Silver said. “You’re maybe reading over a story 15 times or more to get it just right before the seven layers of editing kick in. You’re also leaving theoretically half of your great stuff on the cutting room table never to surface again or seldom.”

Nurturing a relationship built on trust and professionalism is hardly facile in nature, and it required enduring persistence and resolute determination to achieve for Silver. Through these relationships, he has been able to create both distinctive and original types of content. As innovations in technology engendered shifts in consumption patterns though, he decided to do what he originally perceived as being unthinkable and left Sports Illustrated after nearly 13 years.

“When I went there, I felt like we had 30 of the 35 best sportswriters in America and it was murderer’s row,” Silver said of Sports Illustrated. “I had a great, great experience there the whole time so I never thought I’d leave.”

After meeting with Yahoo Sports Executive Editor Dave Morgan and being given an offer with flexibility in the job and a promise of a lucrative salary, Silver knew it was simply too good to pass up. He opted to still write a column on Sundays to counterprogram Peter King at Sports Illustrated, who authored his own weekly “Monday Morning Quarterback” column.

Additionally, Silver agreed to write two additional branded columns per week in a quest to adapt to the digital age of media.

“I was trying to stay current and connect to an internet generation and keep up with the way that people were consuming their content at that time,” Silver said. “….We just had a spirit at Yahoo that we weren’t owned by anyone, we didn’t have a deal with the league and we were going to report the news in a very unfiltered way.”

An advent of the digital age in media has been the practice of writers appearing on television to present their information en masse, requiring changes in their delivery. Unlike in a written piece, reporting on television requires efficiently making key points and speaking in shorter phrases to allow the viewer to easily follow the discussion. Moreover, writers are sometimes presented with questions that may provoke deeper thought or analysis, and occasionally challenge their lines of reporting.

Silver never thought he would work in television, but as a part of his contract with NFL Media, he was writing columns and serving as an analyst on select NFL Network programming. In working on television on a league-owned entity, it forced him to step out of his comfort zone and pursue mastery of a new skill set.

“I never wanted to do TV voice and be cheesy and look like someone who was trained for the medium so my strategy was more to try to be myself on camera and see how that translated,” Silver articulated. “It seemed to work to some degree – and then obviously I picked up a lot of tricks of the trade and techniques and got better reps. Essentially, I think reporting is reporting [and] information is information.”

Moving into television, a medium with sports coverage that is, at its core, nonlinear due to the potential for breaking news and unexpected occurrences, changed the manner in which the information was presented and/or prioritized on the air. In a column, Silver’s goal was to find original angles and obtain anecdotes and quotes to implement into the storytelling. Now on television, sources were still used largely on the condition of deep background, meaning no individual or group could be attributed to the information in any way.

“With TV, there was an element of, ‘Hey man, I’m just trying to sound smart when I talk about you guys,’ which is code for, ‘I don’t have to use your name when I say this stuff, but when I’m weighing on why you just traded for Trent Richardson, help me understand what’s really going on with the Indianapolis Colts at this moment,’” Silver explained. “That’s just a random example. I liked [television] more than I thought I would.”

Silver’s contract was not renewed at NFL Network in 2021, providing a stark change in his lifestyle and leaving him looking for a job in the midst of trying economic times. Through a relationship he had with sports radio host Colin Cowherd, he was given the opportunity to join his upstart podcast platform The Volume as a host. Cowherd eagerly recruited Silver to the platform following a lunch in which the topic came up naturally in conversation about future endeavors.

“When you go through a career transition like that, let alone during a pandemic, you find out a referendum on all your relationships and I have a lot of them from players, coaches, owners and GMs to media people and friends in other industries, etc.,” he explained. “Colin Cowherd is someone I’ll never, ever, ever forget or stop being grateful to…. We were kind of talking some stuff out and he was like, ‘Why don’t we do a show on my network?,’ and we started talking about what that would be. We left lunch… and about 10 minutes later he called me and said, ‘Okay, here’s what I think,’ and kind of continued it.”

Today, Silver is hosting an interview-based program called Open Mike featuring guests from the world of professional football. Recent guests on the program have included Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff, New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh and Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Marvin Jones. Prior to joining The Volume, Silver had hosted a podcast with his daughter called Pass It Down, which ultimately ran for over 50 episodes and gave him experience working within the medium.

“I’m sitting there spending an hour with [Las Vegas] Raiders GM Dave Ziegler or [Buffalo Bills] linebacker Von Miller or whoever we have on,” Silver said. “You’re not only getting to know that person; you’re watching the way I connect with that person and usually have a body of work with that person, and there’s a comfort level there too.”

John Marvel was Silver’s direct boss at NFL Media and a friend he kept in touch with for many years. Through various correspondences and the dynamic media landscape, they decided to start their own media venture called Backstage Media. The company has a first-look deal with Meadowlark Media – a company co-founded by John Skipper, who also serves as its chief executive officer. Skipper was formerly the president of ESPN and someone Silver wished he had worked for earlier in his career.

“I did not know John Skipper before I left NFL Network,” he said. “I didn’t particularly have a dream to [ever] work at ESPN. We’ve had conversations over the years – ESPN and I – and it never seemed like the perfect fit for me. Now that I know John Skipper, it’s like ‘I would have worked for that guy any time.’ He’s fantastic, [and] I’m just so pumped to be in business with him.”

The company, which focuses on producing documentaries and other unscripted programming through the intersection of sports, music and entertainment, has various projects in development. The idea was derived out of both of their penchants for storytelling and an attempt to utilize new platforms built for engagement within the modern-day media marketplace.

“We’re hoping that documentaries, docuseries [and] episodic podcasts – mostly unscripted – …will be kind of our wheelhouse,” Silver said. “….There’s about four big things that are [hopefully] close to being announced. One’s football; one’s boxing; one is basketball; and one is kind of a blend of some things. I feel like we have a pretty diverse set of interests.”

Joining The San Francisco Chronicle as a football reporter has been indicative of a full-circle moment for Silver, as he is once again around the San Francisco 49ers and writing columns about the team and other sports around the Bay Area at large. Today, he is working with Scott Ostler and Ann Kllion, and directly with Eric Branch on the outlet’s 49ers coverage. Through it all, he seeks to continue gaining access to places that the ordinary person would only be able to dream about in order to tell compelling and informative stories, no matter how they may be delivered or on what platform(s) to which it may be distributed.

“I’m old school in a lot of my mentality in terms of journalism and storytelling and all of that,” Silver said. “I think those things don’t go away. I think it’s journalism first; relationship first; access first; storytelling first; and you figure out the rest.”

As for the future of the profession which has ostensibly become less defined because of the evolution of social media and communication, relationships and storytelling have truly become the differentiators. Silver aims to continue practicing what has allowed him to gain exclusive scoops in the industry and tell stories that would otherwise, perhaps, fly under the radar, but do so in a way that does not jeopardize his sources.

“I’m going to try to develop relationships and cultivate relationships where people trust me and give me a sense of what’s going on,” he said. “I’m going to try to get into places that you, as the consumer, couldn’t otherwise go and take you there, and I’m going to err on the side of the relationship as opposed to finding out one thing that could cause a splash that day on Twitter.”

Some athletes are hosting podcasts or writing columns to directly communicate with their fans, including Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow and Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green on The Volume, intensifying the quest for engagement and attraction. Yet Silver advises journalists looking to break into the industry not to get distracted in meeting certain metrics, instead adhering to best practices and reporting truthful information without ambiguity.

“Just don’t get undone by the noise,” Silver said. “Put your head down; hyperfocus; grind; tell good stories; do journalism and hopefully over the course of time, that will stand out. I’d still like to believe that.”

Covering professional sports, specifically football, generates a large amount of potential storylines on which journalists can report – and today, digital platforms give them the ability to cover them in different ways. While some scoops may requit a large article, others may be able to be told in 280 characters or less, such as a trade rumor or injury. The amount of information Silver and his colleagues uncovered working for a print publication and then had to omit because of space limitations underscores a key journalistic principle of efficient and truthful storytelling. In today’s media landscape, he hopes to be able to do that regardless of its means of dissemination.

“If you went back and just looked at our normal… feature or story off a game [and] the level we reported on a Wednesday and translated that to a Twitter generation, people would lose their minds about how much we found out and how much we reported with on-the-record quotes usually, and they’d be like, ‘He said what!?,” Silver said. “That’s all we knew and that’s [how] we did it…. I don’t think people understand how much the threshold has changed. It’s all good. The most important things hopefully haven’t changed.”

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BSM Writers

Video Simulcasts Are Now A Must Have For Sports Radio

All of these shows have done an amazing job of constantly communicating with their audiences to make sure they’re aware of changes coming their way. 

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Video simulcasts of sports talk radio and podcasts have gone up extraordinarily in quality as of late. The craft started as a novelty that very few participated in. ESPN and YES Network dominated the genre with their simulcasts of Mike and Mike in the Morning and Mike and the Mad Dog respectively. Slowly but surely other sports networks and RSN’s picked up the genre over time and it has now become a major component within sports coverage in the streaming world.

The most popular and prominent shows in the medium right now include The Dan Patrick Show, The Dan LeBatard Show with Stugotz, The Pat McAfee Show, and The Rich Eisen Show. These four shows in particular have done an excellent job of independently producing and building out their video content to look visually appealing while also engage with the audience through graphics, pictures, stats on screen. In McAfee’s case, his company even entered into a rights agreement with the NFL for highlights.

Finding their shows can be difficult at times. Eisen’s show has moved from television to Peacock and to Roku Channel all within the span of a couple years. When LeBatard’s shipping container first began their live video voyage they didn’t have a consistent schedule. Patrick’s show has also leapt between RSNs, national networks, YouTube and its current home on Peacock. But all of these shows have done an amazing job of constantly communicating with their audiences to make sure they’re aware of changes coming their way. 

The video simulcasts have become so lucrative for these shows that they’ve found sponsors to advertise against what they’re offering and they ensure that they pay attention to the look of the show. Commercials that feel like television play during Patrick and Eisen’s shows. Logos are displayed during LeBatard’s broadcast and NFL Films vignettes that you would find on NFL Network air in the middle of McAfee’s broadcast.

McAfee’s show recently moved into a new studio in Indianapolis specifically built for them by FanDuel and just yesterday LeBatard announced they would be moving into their own state of the art studio in Miami that will help expand their creativity. Patrick’s show doesn’t even have guests call into their show anymore – most join via Zoom. Eisen’s guests are more often than not in studio. All of these shows also upload highlights relatively quickly to YouTube. They’re still audio-first but video is no longer secondary. It is 1A in terms of importance.

As much as these simulcasts feel close to real TV, there are still some hijinks that fans have to get used to that aren’t the same as a regular TV broadcast. During LeBatard’s broadcast, a rolling loop of their own self produced album plays during breaks. While the songs are hilarious in nature, if you’re a weekly viewer of their simulcast it might get tiresome to hear every time there is a break.

A loop of some of the show’s greatest moments and some of the side projects Meadowlark Media produces might be more engaging and help reduce drop off rate. McAfee’s show also struggles with white balancing their cameras almost every telecast. At times in the middle of a conversation during the show, discoloration occurs before changing back to normal skin tones.

Patrick’s show has used the same set of graphics since it began simulcasting on NBC’s linear sports network years ago which could be a turnoff for younger viewers of the internet era who always want change in order to grab their attention. Eisen’s show has awkward interruptions happen in the middle of conversations because commercial breaks are different in length on terrestrial radio vs. streaming.

At the end of the day though, these shows are the epitome of what it means to have grit and guts to achieve your American dream. Although their productions are subsidized and/or licensed by big media platforms and sports books, their social media presence and the actual production of these shows was built on their own. During the first couple of weeks after LeBatard’s show left ESPN, the former columnist could often be heard teasing listeners that they were working on building a video enterprise and how difficult it was.

It’s hard to stand on your own in sports talk media without the backing of superpowers like ESPN, Fox, NBC, CBS and Turner who have been producing live broadcasts for decades. But these shows have found a way to do so in a new world that is tailored towards doing everything on your own. 

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BSM Writers

5 Ideas For December Sales Success

How much better will you enjoy Christmas and New Year knowing you have some presentations to make to prospects who want to roll into 2023 with a new idea?

Jeff Caves

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Now is the time to put your foot on the gas for a great start to 2023-not waiting til January. With Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day all falling on weekends, you can’t count on who will be at work the Friday or Monday around those holidays in December.

So, looking forward from here, you only have 15 or so days that you can count on your clients and prospects to be at work before the end of 2022. And, if they are at work, consider their motivation or lack of it before approaching them. But here are five ways to attack December.

Cutting a year-end deal

Make sure you go back from the potential start date of the schedule and allow for production, proposal, and acceptance. That usually means you need a week from when you present a year-end idea to when the schedule starts. So, aim to have all appointments booked by 12/9, so you can sell 2-week packages that begin Monday, 12/19. That will give you a sense of urgency and gives you five solid business days to sell your ass off starting Monday.

5-day sale

Make all your pricing and payment terms expire by Friday, 12/9. You can always extend if need be once they give a partial commitment. You want anybody involved in the decision to sign off and let you cut this deal! The idea here is to create urgency and work ahead.

Beat the bushes

Do you want to wake up on 1/2/23 with an empty pipeline? How much better will you enjoy Christmas and New Year knowing you have some presentations to make to prospects who want to roll into 2023 with a new idea? Don’t try to qualify these prospects over the phone. Do it in January when both of you are fresh but get that commitment NOW. Look for your new client avatar.

Be gracious

From now til the end of the year is also an excellent time to meet with your sales assistant, traffic manager, production person, or anybody who helps you at the station. Sit down with them face to face and see what you can do better to make their job easier. Give them some ideas on how they can help you as well. Mend some fences or make new friends; the reason tis the season. Surprise them with a Cheetos popcorn tin for less than $10. Please do it. You will be surprised by what you hear because this is a popular time of year for layoffs, transfers, and people taking new jobs.

Practice a new pitch

December is also a great time to record yourself doing a webinar and start planning to let your content do the talking. Wouldn’t it be nice if your 10-minute talk on how to make live reads work, how to buy radio, or why your audience buys the most widgets produced some warm leads? Practice and get going!

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