|NBA Countdown, ESPN's NBA studio show, was Simmons' first chance to move from a podcast format to TV. And the results have been mixed|
Undoubtedly, what made ESPN's Bill Simmons famous were his insightful, funny, crude, and relatable columns that started out on ESPN.com's Page 2 (now non-existent), ESPN.com's homepage and, now, on Grantland, the branch-off sports/culture website of which Simmons in Editor-in-Chief and of which ESPN owns.
But as his profile as a multi-platform personality has increased along with his celebrity, starting with columns and his popular BS Report podcast and moving to TV appearances on ESPN and ABC, some may argue that Simmons has lost his way, sort of, in that the "fan's columnist" is becoming more of a ratings stooge — like many of ESPN's "analysts", looking at you Skip Bayless, Chris Broussard, and Stephen A. Smith — for ESPN.
One of the biggest extensions of the noted Boston sports fan's popularity has been his inclusion — starting this NBA season — on ESPN's main NBA studio show, NBA Countdown, on which he is a main analyst along with Jalen Rose, Michael Wilbon, and Magic Johnson.
With two former players and two high-profile personalities, Countdown seems to have it all with regards to what a structured NBA show of its ilk could possibly have, everything other than a traditional host.
Countdown's main competitor, TNT's Inside the NBA with Shaq, Kenny Smith, and Charles Barkley (and sometimes Chris Webber) along with Ernie Johnson, is a much more ratings-successful program with a clear dichotomy between analyst (the three former players) and host (Johnson, who has covered many sports for Turner-owned networks in the past, most notably baseball).
Inside the NBA, as Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch notes in his always-wonderful Media Circus column, is much more free of a show than Countdown is, in terms of structure of segments and topics to be talked about. This is a main reason why the latter is more universally liked by pundits and fans alike and takes home awards at the annual Sports Emmy Awards.
But overall, ESPN is said to be pleased with the show's quartet of personalities in their respective first seasons working together on a studio program of Countdown's magnitude. With that said, there is certainly doubt that the group could be shaken up for the 2013-14 to better compete with its direct opposition on TNT. And that doesn't seem to be the worst idea for Simmons, who feels that his responsibilities with Grantland and the show have already been stretched thin this year.
Quotes condensed by SBNation's Steve Lepore from Deitsch's piece:
I need to re-evaluate things this summer and figure out the best way to spend my time", Simmons said. "I was doing too many things these last eight months…"
The lack of from-the-book host on Countdown could be something ESPN's execs may want to do away with for next NBA season and Simmons, with about as little television experience and success as any big-name personalities with the network, could be the odd man who gets jettisoned from the group in lieu of Jay-Crawford-on-First-Take type, leaving former players Jalen Rose and Magic Johnson with longtime ESPN talking head Michael Wilbon still on the set.
Clearly, we have a long time to go until next October when the NBA's regular season starts anew, but it is not crazy to think that Bill Simmons' tenure on ESPN's trademark NBA-focused studio program would only last one year. Some more higher-up decisions have to be made until we get to that point.