TNT’s “Inside the NBA” returns next Tuesday, coinciding with the start of the NBA season. There’s no show quite like it.
If it seems more unstructured, freewheeling and off-the-cuff than other studio shows, well, that’s because it is. By design.
Ernie Johnson Jr., the two-time Emmy Award-winning host of “Inside the NBA,” revealed some of the show’s secrets to success in a recent phone conversation.
One is that analysts Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal don’t attend preshow production meetings.
“There’s no way,” said Johnson, who’s about to start his 25th season as the show’s host. “It would not work for the show. We don’t want to have these guys know what’s coming.
“(What) that does is lend to the spontaneous nature of the show. You get gut-level reactions from the guys. We’re not afraid of that either.”
“Inside the NBA” never feels rushed or beholden to commercials, and that’s no accident either. Longtime producer Tim Kiely is willing to let Ernie, Chuck, Kenny and Shaq go if they’re on a roll. Kiely simply will tell Johnson: “Hey, I’ll make up the time later.”
The reason “Inside the NBA” has proved impossible to replicate is the unique chemistry shared by the cast and crew. They didn’t know they’d have it until they went on the air together for the first time.
Barkley asked Smith what he was going to talk about during their first halftime segment when he joined the group in 2000. “You’ll find out,” Smith replied.
“That set the tone for the way the next 15 years would go for us,” Johnson said. “We’re just guys sitting around in a living room watching a basketball game. No one asks for permission to talk. We’re not going to rehearse it. We let ’er rip.”
Johnson, the ringleader, prepares as meticulously for “Inside the NBA” as his other assignments. We spoke during the MLB playoffs while Johnson was in Anaheim calling the Royals-Angels series for TBS. The coming NBA season already was in the back of his mind.
“Preparation is the lifeblood of this job,” Johnson said. “It’s a non-stop process. You’re always working ahead.”
Johnson often will be the only person awake at his house, watching games and compiling notes deep into the night. It’s the best prep possible for “Inside the NBA,” which typically ends about 2 a.m. EDT, with uproarious laughter.
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