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Volume 24 No. 160
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NBA Roundtable: Media Writers Discuss Quality Of Studio Shows, Chemistry On Set

The NBA season begins with the league's network partners continuing to search for ways to appeal to viewers. THE DAILY conducted a roundtable with two leading media writers --'s Richard Deitsch and the L.A. Daily News' Tom Hoffarth -- discussing their views of topics including studio shows, on-air talent and live streaming of games.

Q: What network does the best job covering the NBA and what do they bring that makes it successful?
Deitsch: Both Turner and ESPN do a good job of covering the NBA, but I would give the advantage to Turner, simply because its studio show is far and away the best NBA studio show and arguably best studio show that exists today along with ESPN’s “College GameDay.” The NBA is one of those unique entities where viewers are really into studio programming, probably because there are not as many pregame shows as there are in the NFL. So that gives “Inside the NBA” that much more prominence, and by virtue of Charles Barkley, it is destination viewing. ESPN’s No. 1 team of Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy is as good as it gets. I think so is Marv Albert and Steve Kerr. So in terms of game broadcasts, both Turner and ESPN do a really good job with their announcers, with their production. I would give ESPN an advantage with Doris Burke on the sideline even though I think David Aldridge, Craig Sager, et cetera are good. NBA TV would be a distant third; their studio shows are good, not great, in my opinion. And their game coverage is good, but I think a step behind Turner and ESPN.
Hoffarth: First, I’ll admit the NBA isn’t my first choice of sports viewing, especially in the regular season. So it takes something to really pull me in -- an intriguing matchup, a holiday game. A local Lakers or Clippers broadcast will grab my attention over any other national game as well, too. That said, TNT’s longer-term commitment with the sport makes me feel there’s more loyalty there in checking them out, especially in bigger moment games. An NBA game on ESPN seems like nothing really special, just part of the network daily offering. But if there’s a Breen-Van Gundy game on anywhere, I’ll gravitate toward that.

Deitsch believes continuity is a key to the success
of TNT’s “Inside the NBA"

Q: A lot has been made about the success of TNT’s “Inside the NBA.” How do you think the show could continue to replicate said success moving forward?
Deitsch: They replicate the success because of the continuity that exists between Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley. And as long as you have that trio, you’re going to have a terrific show. That trio is one of the best we’ve ever seen on sports television in terms of continuity, entertainment, watch-ability. They added Shaq a couple of years ago; I think he’s certainly better now than he was at the start, and the show hasn’t fundamentally changed with the addition of Shaquille O’Neal, and that’s why it’s worked. ... The other thing is -- and this is very important -- that studio show is one of the least-scripted studio shows I’ve ever seen on television sports; they allow their people to have spontaneous moments.
Hoffarth: I realize that I’ve stopped listening to things Charles Barkley says for a few years now. I just don’t find him relevant, more of a media creation at this point, someone who’s figured out the business of talking and getting attention. Shaq isn’t going to be Barkley 2.0, either. Kenny Smith seems to be the only one offering something, like he’s actually paying attention and has processed the information. But then, maybe that’s the beauty of this show -- a comfortable, barbershop setting where you don’t agree with everything said, laugh a lot and feel like you’re one of their friends. The person who’d really inject something special is Reggie Miller, but that would mean moving him from game coverage to the studio and forcing him to go to Atlanta, so I can’t see that happening.

Q: How do you foresee the chemistry of ESPN’s “NBA Countdown” developing now that there have been these recent changes just as league preseason games began?
Deitsch: Impossible to know. The thing about chemistry is you have no idea until the camera light comes on and the principles are interacting with one another, and not in any sort of rehearsal format. So we’ll see how Sage Steele interacts with Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose and Doug Collins; we’ll see how Doris Burke interacts with Avery Johnson. I think there are a lot of very smart people and interesting people on that show -- there’s been a lot of times where you have individuals who are interesting, but they cannot match up together.
Hoffarth: I found myself paying less and less attention to this show because I can’t figure out what it’s trying to achieve, whether it’s forced chemistry, a splash studio, virtual graphics and all that. The fact it’s based in L.A. shows some intent on making it relevant, but it never seems to exploit that advantage by being right across the street from Staples Center. I’m not sure what Bill Simmons brings to the conversation except maybe a fan’s perspective, and even that is suspect. Magic had the star power, and could be the most quotable, so without him there, and now Michael Wilbon missing, I think it’s very pedestrian. Jalen Rose seems to have talked himself into being a co-host, so I’m not sure how inserting Sage Steele makes this any more than just moving lounge chairs around. Bill Walton would be a great person to bring back here if he wanted it. Even someone like Stephen A. Smith could add some juice.

Q: How do you feel NBA TV ranks amongst the other league-owned networks in terms of both A) overall quality and B) unbiased coverage?
Deitsch: Most of the time, bias if it comes is going to come in a studio format, or the auxiliary-programming format, and I think NBA TV for the most part at least on their postgame shows certainly does not shy away from anything in terms of game action, in terms of coaching decisions -- good, bad or indifferent -- player decisions -- good, bad or indifferent. NBA TV is usually fine with that. The question with league networks is, how far do they go in their reporting and kind of the third-rail issues. ... Usually with league-owned networks, the day-to-day stuff, they’re generally pretty good about talking about a coaching doing something or whether a player is sort of doing something wrong or not, but usually it’s the larger issues -- the kind of stuff that takes some in-depth reporting on something that really makes league officials queasy -- that’s where I think I would not go to NBA TV.
Hoffarth: I don’t seek out the channel out as much as I would MLB Network or NFL Network, or even the NHL Network, and the only reason I suspect is again because the NBA isn’t my No. 1 TV choice during this time of year. I tend to go to it if there’s a replay of an old game, or a special documentary, or this “Open Court” panel discussion. ... I don’t think it’s a quality issue or bias coverage. It seems to be just an extension of TNT’s coverage in a lot of ways, which makes sense considering how content is compiled for it. My suggestion would be to try to find a two-some like the MLB’s Chris Rose and Kevin Millar to do their own “Intentional Talk” show during the afternoons as a friendly place to stop by.

Hoffarth is a proponent of giving fans as many
options on how they consume games
Q: The NBA’s streaming package is debuting the option of letting a given fan choose the home or away announcer for every game. Just how big of a step for the fan is this move and how well-received do you believe it will be?
Deitsch: I like it, a lot. I think it’s a really smart move by whatever entity made that move but I really think it’s a smart move, because having written about so many announcers and having talked to so many fans in multiple sports, they really do feel this connection to the local broadcasters and I think, whether it’s correct or not, it’s not necessarily about fandom but I think they get familiar and comfortable with a voice, and they believe that broadcast is tailor-made to them as fans as opposed to a more down-the-middle broadcast or a national broadcast or, obviously, the opposing broadcast.
Hoffarth: Whatever gives fans more options of feeling they can make a decision on how they consume games, the better. I’ve been impressed with the NBA TV’s ability to get fan votes to decide whichever game they want to see.

Q: Who is an underrated talent or is next to emerge as a top talent?
Deitsch: I continue to be impressed with Chris Webber and his growth as a broadcaster and a thinker on the air. I think he’s funny, thoughtful, smart, and I find myself always interested into what he has to say when he’s on either “NBA Countdown” or when he goes on “Inside the NBA.” He’s not underrated, but year after year, Steve Kerr becomes a better analyst on-air, to the point where I think he and Jeff Van Gundy by far and away are the top two game analysts in their sport and I think would be in the conversation for the top game analysts in any sport. I really appreciate that Turner kind of continues to push him and we continue to see a lot of him. I would be very interested in Sage Steele, who now gets into a very prominent role for NBA fans and in a way they have not seen her previously.
Hoffarth: I hope Doris Burke is able to make an impact on ESPN’s preview show, to show more of her personality and knowledge. George Karl is someone who I’ll stop to listen to when he’s talking now that he’s back. Doug Collins will always add tremendous value no matter where’s he’s placed.