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What’s Next For NBA Countdown?

Jason Barrett

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There are very few absolutes in sports broadcasting but one of them is the changing cast of ESPN’s NBA Countdown program. The roll call of hosts over the last decade includes Mike Tirico, Dan Patrick, John Saunders, Stuart Scott, Hannah Storm, Michael Wilbon, Sage Steele and Doris Burke. Michelle Beadle also took a spin this year as a fill-in. The roster of analysts is even longer.

Trying to find the right talent mix for a high-profile sports studio show is understandable for a network heavily invested in the NBA, and some of the changes to Countdown have improved the show over the years. But the lack of on-air continuity makes a sharp contrast to its more popular pre-and post-game counterpart: TNT’s Inside The NBA. (Even a young Bill Simmons celebrated TNT’s chemistry when he spent the day with the crew in 2002 as a Page 2 writer for ESPN.com).

Prior to this NBA season, ESPN installed Steele as Countdown’s main host (and Burke as a secondary one) where Michael Wilbon previously served as a combo host/analyst. Former NBA coach Doug Collins was brought when Magic Johnson abruptly resigned from ESPN last October. Simmons and Jalen Rose were the holdover analysts from last year.

How did that mix shake out? Opinions are all over the map based on the NBA viewers I’ve conversed with this season. Some viewers like Steele. Some think she’s lightweight on basketball. Some viewers like Simmons. Some think he comes off as entitled and whiny. Some viewers like Rose. Some think he desperately tries to be Charles Barkley. Some viewers like Collins. Some people think he looks miserable on set and is miscast as a studio analyst.

From my vantage point, ESPN management failed to nurture the show effectively. What was befuddling during this postseason was the insistence on providing an overload of NBA voices rather than trusting the Countdown team to carry postgames on its own. Think about how Inside The NBA works. While Turner shows live player press conferences and brings on guests (usually for great segments thanks to the byplay between Charles Barkley and current players), Inside never accedes airtime to other Turner analysts to comment. It believes in its cast and wants to brand it as the final authority on the game it just televised.

Strangely, Countdown’s staff was buried Sunday night on the biggest NBA night of the year — the final game of the NBA Finals. The Countdown group did two segments during SportsCenter (around postgame press conferences) for a total of maybe five minutes. They also taped two segments for SportsCenter later that night. Throughout the playoffs and on Sunday night, Wilbon and Stephen A. Smith received a ton of airtime including appearing on ESPN News before the Countdown crew (ESPN News had the first crack at NBA Finals postgame coverage due to MLB airing on ESPN and NHRA drag racing on ESPN2). Is that the sign of a deep bench or that management does not trust Countdown to handle the postgame on its own? Viewers notice this stuff and if I’m doing the assigning, Countdown is getting every bit of airtime so I can build them up with NBA fans against the Barkley-Kenny Smith-Ernie Johnson-Shaq juggernaut.

What happens next? I’d be stunned if the main cast remained the same. Steele signed a multi-year extension with ESPN and when I spoke with her earlier in the year, she was committed to Countdown for multiple years and management was with her as well. I see her back. Rose is likely back, too. Simmons is tough to predict. He worried last year about the travel away from his family and it’s clear there were times this postseason he was not happy with the show’s direction. (Take it to the bank that multiple staffers are frustrated by management’s treatment of the show.) Collins is miscast significantly, in my opinion. He’s easily the best basketball mind on that set but there’s no on-air chemistry between he and his partners. In an ideal world, Collins would do games only (where he is great) and in a really ideal world, ESPN and TNT would negotiate an out so Collins could replace Steve Kerr on TNT’s top team with Marv Albert. If you asked me today, I’d say Collins is not back with the main team.

For more on this story visit Sports Illustrated where this story was originally published.

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Jonathan Zaslow No Longer With WQAM

An attempt to reach out to Zaslow for comment went unanswered.

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WQAM midday host Jonathan Zaslow is no longer with WQAM in Miami.

The radio station has removed his show from the website and references to him and his normal 10a-2p ET midday timeslot program have been scrubbed from the station website.

Zaslow tweeted at 5:19p ET confirming the news.

Whether or not this has any effect on his involvement with the Miami Heat broadcasts is unknown as of now.

Zaslow had been with 790 the Ticket since 2004. He was transitioned from Audacy-owned 790 to sister station AM 560 Sports WQAM last October. During his tenure he has worked with a number of established local voices including Joy Taylor, Amber Wilson, Brett Romberg, and Brendan Tobin amongst others.

WQAM has gone thru a number of changes, including a rebranding effort to call the station “560 The Joe”. That ended last year with the station returning to the AM 560 Sports WQAM brand listeners were more familiar with. What they have planned next in Zaslow’s timeslot is unclear but local listeners will likely get some answers next week.

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Vanessa Richardson Named Houston Rockets Sideline Reporter, Paul Gallant to Host Solo on ESPN 97.5

Vanessa Richardson will be on the sidelines for the Houston Rockets and Paul Gallant will host solo show on ESPN 97.5.

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Vanessa and Gallant

Changes are taking place in Houston sports media. First, the Houston Rockets will have a new television sideline reporter this season, and she’s a familiar name to Houston sports fans.

Vanessa Richardson, the now former co-host of ESPN 97.5’s Vanessa and Gallant, revealed that she will be on the sidelines for the NBA franchise covering the team for AT&T SportsNet Southwest.

She tweeted the news saying, “Elated to be the new Houston Rockets sideline reporter! I can’t wait to travel the country & share the stories of this dynamic team during 80+ games on AT&T SportsNet Southwest. I’ll continue to fill-in as a host/reporter for Astros broadcasts as well.”

Richardson’s co-host, Paul Gallant, tweeted that with Richardson leaving the show for the Rockets sideline gig, Vanessa and Gallant will become the Paul Gallant Show. The solo show led by Gallant begins Monday September 26th.

“We’re excited to have Paul host his own show”, said Todd Farquharson, General Manager of ESPN 97.5 & 92.5.  “He’s super creative, energetic, and likeable.  He’ll get the audience involved and have fun.”

Paul commented, “You know what I’ve always loved about sports talk radio?  That it’s interactive.  Whether through a phone call, text message, tweet or on Twitch, it’s the best place for sports fans to come together and celebrate…or vent.  And that’s what The Paul Gallant Show is going to be…Houston’s platform to talk about its teams. THE most interactive sports talk show in Houston.”

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Ken Carman: Al Michaels ‘Feels Untethered’ On Amazon Prime Video

“The thing that stuck out was Kirk Herbstreit ripping the elf,” said Carman. “Don’t be ripping Brownie the Elf, man.”

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The Cleveland Browns defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers during Thursday Night Football on Amazon Prime Video. 92.3 The Fan morning host Ken Carman applauded Al Michaels for his performance during the presentation.

“Al Michaels feels untethered for the first time. He’s not network television anymore and he can say whatever he wants. We interviewed him on the pregame show and I was nervous,” Carman said.

“He’s a legend,” co-host Anthony Lima added.

During the final play of the game, the Steelers fumbled a lateral into the endzone which the Browns recovered to make the final score 29-17. Michaels said “that may be meaningful to some of you. And you know who I mean”, alluding to people who had placed wagers on the game.

Carman, who hosts two-hours of pre-game coverage on the Browns Radio Network, continued to discuss how nervous he was interviewing Michaels. He also discussed how impressive Amazon’s behind-the-scenes production was, pointing out the only football broadcast with more cameras is the Super Bowl. More than 400 people work behind the scenes for Amazon Prime Video.

“The thing that stuck out was Kirk Herbstreit ripping the elf,” said Carman. “Don’t be ripping Brownie the Elf, man.”

Carman later said people angry that Michaels misspoke by saying the Pro Football Hall of Fame is “down I-71” instead of I-77 were unreasonable, and joked “Al Michaels hasn’t been on a highway in 20 years”.

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