Bill Simmons is not just back on the air at ESPN — but back in a high-profile way, with a new show, “The Grantland Basketball Hour,” which premieres on Thursday at 7 p.m. ET.
“We wanted to create a show for NBA junkies that felt different from every other show on ESPN, while also feeling decidedly ‘Grantlandish’ in every way,” said Simmons. “Also, I’m excited that I just created the word ‘Grantlandish.'”
As TheWrap previously reported, Simmons and co-host/best friend/NBA analyst Jalen Rose’s first guest on the Grantland-branded TV series will be Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers. Also appearing on the opening show as regular guests are Michelle Beadle, Jeff Van Gundy and Zach Lowe.
The series, from ESPN’s Los Angeles Production Center as one of the first TV extensions of Exit 31 — which combined ESPN Films, Grantland and FiveThirtyEight under one umbrella — will air up to 18 one-hour, primetime episodes once a month throughout the NBA regular season, playoffs and Finals. Additional episodes are planned for the NBA Draft and free agency period. Production is overseen by Connor Schell, vice president and executive producer, ESPN Films and Original Content, who also serves as an executive producer of the documentary series “30 for 30” alongside Simmons.
“Sports cliché alert but we’re taking it one show at a time,” senior coordinating producer Kevin Wildes told TheWrap. “One of the benefits of being a monthly show is that we have a few weeks to cook up some experiments.
“Show four might feel totally different than show one. We want to be unpredictable,” he explained.
Aiming to be a natural transition taking what Simmons and his team has done on Grantland.com and in the “B.S. Report” podcasts to television, the show will be filmed on a new living room-style set in front a live studio audience. In the typical style of Simmons, who found fame as the “Boston Sports Guy” before joining ESPN in 2001, viewers can expect uniquely-named segments such as “Intriguing People Not Called LeBron James.”
“Our goal is to make a show that delivers on three fronts — smarts, smiles, and surprises. That’s the triangle offense of this show,” Wildes went on the tell TheWrap. “And overall, the show will be a mix of personality, authority and basketball ephemera that Bill made us buy off eBay,” he joked.
“TGBH” marks the return to the airways for Simmons following his recent three-week suspension by ESPN. The outspoken Grantland editor-in-chief was suspended last month for calling NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell a liar in a profanity-laced rant on his podcast and then challenging the network to punish him.
Simmons quietly returned to the airwaves shortly after midnight on Oct. 15, the moment his suspension by was up, with no mention of the controversy other than to say he was glad to be back.
During the 2013-14 NBA season he served as an analyst on “NBA Countdown,” alongside Rose and Doug Collins on the flagship show hosted by Sage Steele, but his departure and latest venture were both announced in August.
“The Grantland Basketball Hour” premieres Thursday, Oct. 23, at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.