SBJ/Sept. 20-26, 2010/Media

HD helping ESPN shows 'clean up'

Renderings show the new studio for "Around the Horn"
Starting next week, ESPN’s hit shows “Pardon the Interruption” and “Around the Horn” will be produced in high definition. It will mark the most significant changes since both shows launched, “PTI” in 2001 and “ATH” a year later. Erik Rydholm, the only executive producer the two shows have ever known, sat down with SportsBusiness Journal staff writer John Ourand last week to discuss changes that will be coming when the shows go HD.

What will be different?
Rydholm: You’ll see slightly dressed up versions of what you’ve always seen. We don’t want to go out and have guys hovering or holograms or anything like that, but we thought it was an opportunity to clean up our act.

Give us specific changes.
Most everything is going to look unbelievably similar because we wanted it to. For “PTI,” the desk is going to be a little bit smaller. It’s going to look a little bit glossier. “Around the Horn” is going to be a little bit different because they built us a spaceship for a studio. The easiest comparisons we can make are either to a spaceship or an Apple store. It looks so unbelievably smooth and “2001”-ish. I’m kind of dubious about whether that actually impacts the bottom line and whether more people watch.

How much credence do you give viewer feedback?
From a marketing standpoint, when you listen to those who send you feedback, you’re only listening to a small percentage of your audience. But they’ve kept us honest from day one. While we have not progressed in visual ways — and this will be our first significant visual change — we have changed in how we address issues and which questions we’re asking. That’s the much harder job and the much more important job for any of these types of shows.

How has viewer feedback changed what you’ve done on the shows?
Poor Dan Le Batard. When he started at “Pardon the Interruption,” the vitriol toward him was substantial. After his first day, Dan asked, “What are people writing about me?” He started reading it, and it was just a torch after a flame. He started laughing and said, “They hate me. They all hate me.” We said, “Well, this is how we can take advantage of it. You are now the hate-able Dan Le Batard. Let’s acknowledge what’s already on viewers’ minds and move forward from there.”

Some of the “Around the Horn” panelists seem to be viewed negatively like that.
The perception of “Around the Horn” frustrates me a little bit. There’s almost never been an unkind word written about “PTI.” “Around the Horn” can’t catch a break. It’s become a punching bag for so many people. The way we have to look at these things is how well they rate and whether people seem to enjoy them. That show has been a phenomenon. If “Pardon the Interruption” wasn’t on the air, “Around the Horn” would be celebrated as an enormous ratings hit.

How do you deal with “Around the Horn” criticisms?
Yes, the guys can get loud. Yes, some of the humor can be juvenile. And yes, some people say these panelists might be a little bit smarter than they come off in the show. The fact is that the show is a fun show. The guys do make smart points. If the show weren’t a success, if people didn’t enjoy the show on some level, then we would feel the pressure to change the formula. But right now, I feel the formula has worked for the network and the viewers.

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