Bill Simmons’ HBO show “Any Given Wednesday” was officially put out of it’s misery on Friday November 4th, 2016 (#RIP). Despite declining ratings and tons of speculation, the announcement still came as a little bit of a shock considering HBO’s reputation as a talent-friendly shop and their supposed $6-7 million per year deal with the former “Sports Guy”.
Theories about why the show wasn’t working varied widely, but the core issue seemed to be the inability of Simmons (and his producers/writers) to capture the magic of his phenomenal podcast in a visual medium. Put it this way: in the last 9+ years I have listened to well over 99% of Simmons’ podcasts, but I bailed out of his TV show after a couple weeks. The “it” factor just wasn’t there. A recent episode drew a mere 82,000 viewers, which even for HBO, is almost unbelievably small.
It seems possible that Simmons is just not good on TV – it is certainly an opinion shared by many fans and writers – and that he should stick to writing/podcasting/producing. However, if after the first couple episodes – when anyone watching already knew something was off – Simmons and HBO had made the following changes, they could have given themselves a much better shot to succeed.
6. Change the Studio
I’m no interior decorator, but the studio didn’t work. It made Simmons feel like a small fish in a giant bowl and diminished his prominence. It should have been smaller and more intimate, kind of like the Grantland Podcast studio.
No 5: Make the Show an Hour
It seems counterintuitive, but when you design a show around a single person it may be a good idea to play to their strengths. Simmons is great at going deep with guests, and instead of interviewing folks for an hour and only putting the best parts on the show (while putting the outtakes online in a misguided social media strategy), he should have more closely followed the format of his podcast, where a lot of the best material comes from deep dives that can only happen within a longer show. In fact, his worst podcasts are the ones where the guest can only give him half an hour and the conversation doesn’t go as deep.
4. Stick (mostly) to Sports
Simmons became famous partially for mixing in pop culture with sports, but his show seemed to be trying to do too many things. He had guests from politics, comedy, drama, media, sports, etc. When launching a show it is important to have a strong identity. The show should have focused on guests from the sports world and then eventually mixed in other guests after the ratings and tone were established.
3. Keep it to One Guest at a Time and No More than Two Per Episode
Like making the show an hour, this is counter-intuitive, but once again it plays to Simmons’ strengths. This is impossible to do when you try to shoehorn in 3-4 different guests inside a single episode. If you wanted to sum up all these suggested changes into two core ideas, they would be: make the show into the “Charlie Rose of Sports” and recreate the podcast for TV.
Charlie Rose has a nightly hour-long show on PBS where he goes deep with a guest or two in an intimate setting. Most television executives would tell you there isn’t enough going on; the show isn’t busy enough, but Rose has developed a very loyal audience made up of extremely successful and influential coastal elites. That is all HBO really wants from it’s programming: to be part of the cultural conversation (like Charlie Rose is and like Simmons’ podcast was until recently). You may never get a huge audience that way, but I bet it would be a hell of a lot bigger than 82,000 (half of whom may have just fallen asleep in front of the TV).
2. Kill the Opening Segment/Monologue
This was obvious from episode one. It didn’t work and didn’t need to be there. He isn’t a standup comedian. They spent way too much time trying to turn it into a “late night show” when they should have just been focusing on making engaging content. It’s HBO in 2016 – who the fuck cares what the format is as long as it works? This should have basically been a televised version of his podcast, except with the ability to mix in clips and highlights to accentuate questions and points. For instance: if you have Charles Barkley on and want to ask him about his relationship with Shaq, you could show the YouTube clip of them fighting to give the question better context.
1. Tell him to Stop Dressing Like Ellen Degeneres…