Bill Simmons to Join HBO

23 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Bill Simmons Lands Megadeal at HBO.

As The Hollywood Reporter first reported in an HBO cover story in mid-June, the ESPN castoff will make HBO his exclusive TV home. The former ESPN writer and commentator has signed a multi-year deal with HBO to host a weekly television new weekly series for the network that will air on the main HBO service, as well as the HBO digital platforms HBO GO® and HBO NOW.The pay TV network has officially signed the multimedia sports star to a “major exclusive multi-year, multi-platform agreement,” confirming reports that first leaked out (likely courtesy of HBO) in June. Simmons will have an HBO talk show that will start airing in 2016, and HBO says it will also work with him on other ventures, like video podcasts and documentaries.

There’s no mention in HBO’s press release of Simmons creating a new version of Grantland, the site he built for ESPN — or any other Web property for HBO. And I suppose it’s possible that HBO could participate in that if he wants to build one, though it looks as though he’ll need other partners if he goes that route. We could not be more thrilled for him to bring those talents to HBO and to become a signature voice at the network, spanning the sports and pop culture landscapes,” HBO programming president Michael Lombardo said in a statement Wednesday. Simmons’s chief passion was basketball, and while he was at ESPN the network let him participate in some of its NBA broadcasts; I assumed that he’d want to replicate some version of that with Turner, which is the only other programmer with NBA games. From the moment I started talking to Michael and Richard [Plepler, HBO chairman and CEO], it was hard to imagine being anywhere else.” The news comes nearly two months after ESPN, Simmons’ home of 14 years, unceremoniously dumped the prolific on-air/online personality, whose other contributions include Grantland, popular podcasts and the critically praised 30 for 30 documentary franchise.

He has not appeared on ESPN since, and left his editing job at the website Grantland, though ESPN had said he would be paid until his contract expired in September. Simmons was a valuable asset for the sports giant, but also a voluble one, who often complained that he didn’t get the treatment and resources he wanted. Simmons’ following, which includes 4.3 million Twitter followers, was no doubt of appeal to HBO, which is looking to grow its stable of must-see personalities in an increasingly on-demand era of TV viewing.

Simmons had butted heads with executives at the “worldwide leader in sports.” He was suspended last fall for three weeks over comments he made regarding how NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell handled a domestic abuse incident. And earlier this spring, he took another public swipe at the commissioner for his handling — or, in Simmons’ view, mishandling — of Deflategate on Dan Patrick’s radio show. Simmons’s new deal will leave him an outlet for the kind of written sports journalism that brought him to prominence, and led ESPN to build Grantland around him. ESPN president John Skipper, like Simmons, has remained tight-lipped about the precise cause for his firing, just as he has on the early July decision to yank another controversial ESPN personality, Keith Olbermann.

At the network’s upfront presentation in mid-May, Skipper told reporters only that “it was business,” adding that his decision not to re-up Simmons’ contract does “not detract from the appreciation I have for Bill Simmons.” HBO is poised to be a good fit for Simmons, whose colorful — and at times controversial — commentary will be welcomed at the premium cable network, which doesn’t depend on advertiser revenue or lucrative deals with leagues like the NFL. Several close to Simmons, who’s been courted by more than a few entities following his ESPN ouster, say they wouldn’t be surprised to see the prolific columnist launch another Grantland-esque site for his written commentary moving forward. The two-time New York Times best-selling author got his start writing for ESPN.com in 2001, before segueing into lead columnist for ESPN The Magazine for seven years. In the years that followed, he was part of Jimmy Kimmel Live!’s early writing staff and had remained a must-read columnist for his own Grantland until his springtime exit.

But his profile as perhaps the most influential sportswriter in the country made him a coveted hire for potential suitors from both legacy media companies and digital outlets.

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