1:00pm PT by Lacey Rose
Bill Simmons' HBO Talk Show: An Insider's Guide to the Format, Segments and Hoped-for Guest List
Until now, Bill Simmons’ forthcoming HBO talk show, Any Given Wednesday With Bill Simmons, has been largely shrouded in secrecy.
Though he’s let snippets slip here and there on his eponymous podcast, he has said little else publicly about the precise format and segments associated with his next act, for which HBO is said to be paying him between $7 million and $9 million a year. (It’s worth noting that the sportswriter turned multimedia guru will be offering more than simply a half-hour weekly series for that hefty sum; plans call for him to be involved with such things as the network’s documentaries and sports programming as well as to become a key face of the network’s brand on HBO Now.)
As part of The Hollywood Reporter's cover profile on Simmons, the former ESPN firebrand opened up about what to expect from the June 22 launch, from the 10 p.m. series' structure to his hoped-for guest list.
Early in the planning process, Simmons proposed the idea of his talk show focusing solely on lengthy, podcast-style interviews, which could run a full hour. HBO’s since-departed programming president Michael Lombardo, who will remain involved with the show, is the one who convinced him to do the show at 30 minutes rather than a full hour — “Start with less, you can always grow,” Lombardo advised — and to insert more of himself into the show. The other formatting decision that had been heavily debated was whether to air the series live. Ultimately, it was Simmons who convinced HBO to let him pre-tape Any Given Wednesday the day prior on the Sunset Gower Studios lot without a studio audience of any kind. His argument was simple: He’s not a performer or a stand-up, and he’ll be considerably more comfortable if it’s just him and his guests. If all goes as planned, his interviews will have the same easy style as those on his podcast.
The series will open with Simmons’ hard take on an of-the-moment subject, be it one in sports or in pop culture. If the show had been on in mid-May, for example, he would gone off on those then-prevalent Kevin Durant rumors. Next comes the interview portion of the program, which will be the bulk of the show. The first features a 10- to 12-minute two-person panel, with Simmons focusing the conversation on a specific subject. When pressed for hypotheticals, he said he liked the idea of pairing billionaire Mark Cuban and Vice’s Shane Smith for a conversation about how successful people become overextended. Another idea: Tony Romo and Aaron Rogers talking about the degree of difficulty involved with the quarterback position in the NFL. The second interview will feature just one guest (ideally from sports, tech or Hollywood) and will be taped longer than its 10- to 12-minute on-air edit would suggest. The show will close with a scripted bit, which Simmons is keeping under wraps.
The Guest List
Though Lombardo has been urging the host not to get caught up in the A-list celebrity-booking rat race, that seems to be where Simmons’ head is at. Asked to rattle off some of the folks on his wish list, he included first lady Michelle Obama as well as fellow Bostonians Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. “I know by episode four I’ll probably end up with the fifth lead on some CW sitcom,” Simmons joked, "but for now I’m dreaming big.” He should have little trouble luring folks from the sports world, though he has his sights on some of the more press-averse, including New England Patriots coach Bill Bellichick. Others that he’s hopeful will come on the show: recent podcast guests Chris Sacca and Louis C.K., along with his pal, Charles Barkley, who could be a panelist on night one.
He isn’t John Oliver or Jon Stewart, nor will he pretend to be. Which is to say, if you’re expecting Simmons, the comedian, come June 22, you’re in for disappointment. Instead, he’ll tell you his value-add is being a good interviewer (a trademark: his lack of notes) and having a strong point of view. That’s what has his new showrunner Stuart Miller, who came over after more than a decade at The Daily Show, optimistic about the series' prospects, despite Simmons’ general lack of experience on TV. "Both Bill and Jon Stewart have really strong points of view, and that supersedes everything,” said Miller. “It doesn’t matter how many years you might have in front of a camera, if you have a great, strong take on things, which Bill obviously does, that’s what matters. Everything else will fall into place.” Fun fact: Simmons shared a meal with Stewart last fall, during which he picked the former Daily Show host’s brain about formats and scheduling.
Simmons insists his experience in the world of podcasting has provided far better prep for his HBO venture than any time he spent on-air as a talking head for ESPN’s NBA Countdown. In fact, his stints on ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption as well as the network’s draft coverage are better indicators of his on-air style, he said, since he was considerably more relaxed and comfortable in those settings than he ever was on Countdown. Still, a 30-minute talk show will be entirely new territory for Simmons, who’s quick to acknowledge the stakes. “The TV show has to work because it’s the focal point of everything,” he said. “Then just for me personally it has to work — and I want it to work because I'm super competitive."