SBD/October 28, 2013/Media

ESPN's Sage Steele Will Attempt To Serve As Traffic Cop On Network's "NBA Countdown"

Steele is not concerned about change despite the show's history of turnover
ESPN's "NBA Countdown" has "essentially replaced its most prominent analyst" -- Magic Johnson -- with Sage Steele, a "natural host who will serve as a traffic cop -- a role handled awkwardly" by Michael Wilbon and Jalen Rose in recent years, according to Barry Jackson of the MIAMI HERALD. The show has undergone a number of personnel changes this offseason, which is unsurprising given that if there is "one thing you can count on with the NBA on TV, it’s turnover and instability in the ABC/ESPN studio" (MIAMI HERALD, 10/27). Steele said that her role "would be a traditional host: leading conversation, asking follow-up questions and taking the show in and out of commercial breaks." SI.com's Richard Deitsch reported Steele "will remain based in Connecticut" and travel to L.A. "the day before each edition of the show." She said of landing the gig, "Countdown had not had a host for a long time and they seemed pretty set on keeping it that way. I had asked about the role in the past and I had always had interest in it but I was surprised." Steele said of whether ESPN management had promised her the role for multiple years, "I don't want to get into details on that, but in capital letters, I am not concerned about change." She said that she was "thrilled by the rehearsal chemistry when she and the new Countdown group did a mock show last Tuesday evening" at ESPN's L.A. studios (SI.com, 10/27). In Tampa, Tom Jones writes "NBA Countdown" in recent years was "just four panelists talking, and that's what made the show so interesting." The show was "just four people sitting around a desk talking hoops." It will be "interesting to see if ESPN will flip this show to a more traditional one" with Steele being the host and setting up the analysts. That "would be fine, except now it's going to turn into every pregame show on television" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 10/28).

BARRY RELEGATED TO RADIO? In N.Y., Bob Raissman noted ESPN is calling on analyst Jon Barry, who "has no radio experience," to replace Basketball HOFer Dr. Jack Ramsay on ESPN Radio NBA game broadcasts. Barry's TV schedule has "nearly been cut in half (he’ll do 20 games) as a result of ESPN hiring Doug Collins." Barry said, "It’s been tough for ESPN. They are scrambling. You lose a guy like (Johnson), it’s big. (The studio situation) is pretty much a revolving door. They like tweaking it every year. ... You like to find something that you stick with because it’s got to grow together. Unfortunately we didn’t have that opportunity. ... There was a realization there’s no way we were going to be TNT. We don’t have a Charles Barkley. Charles is a guy who is able to say anything and it’s funny. If I said it, I would be thrown off the air.” Barry said of the new "NBA Countdown" roster, "I don’t know what they are striving for. I think it should be four guys hanging out talking hoops, but now it’s none of my business" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 10/27). SI.com's Deitsch, ahead of the start of the NBA season tomorrow, "invited four avid NBA watchers" -- SI.com's Matt Dollinger, Yahoo Sports' Kelly Dwyer, longtime NBA writer Holly MacKenzie and SI's Phil Taylor -- to speak on a number of TV-related topics. The topics included who is the best national play-by-play announcer and whether Bill Simmons is likeable on "NBA Countdown" (SI.com, 10/25).

UPDATE ON RAMSAY'S HEALTH: Ramsay, who has battled cancer several times in the past decade, said he is "doing well" in dealing with his latest health issue, which he declined to disclose. Ramsay: "I am doing well within the limits. My doctors expect me to be around a while" (MIAMI HERALD, 10/27).
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