Who needs a host? ESPN exec explains why hostless NBA Countdown works

What ESPN did with its NBA Countdown show this year might not be good news for James Brown, Curt Menefee, Chris Berman, Chris Fowler, and countless other hosts of studio shows.

ESPN has proved that a studio show can be done without a quote-unquote host.

In one of the more unique experiments in recent years, ESPN decided to go without a studio host for its NBA studio show. In previous years, the network had employed Hannah Storm and Stuart Scott to direct the traffic.

This year, ESPN simply put Magic Johnson, Michael Wilbon, Chris Broussard, and Jon Barry at a table and let them talk. Wilbon does most of the nuts and bolts stuff when it comes to opening the segments. But unlike a regular host, his main purpose is to be an analyst, offering his opinions in the discussion.

ESPN’s version is a contrast to TNT’s Inside the NBA, where host Ernie Johnson has to steer through the goofiness often generated by Charles Barkley. ESPN’s NBA Countdown is far less yuks and more hardcore basketball.

Mark Gross, ESPN senior VP and executive producer , is more than pleased with the new format. I asked him about the show in a Q/A.

Why did ESPN decide to go without a host?

We thought let’s just try something different. We thought if we could get the right guys together, we wouldn’t need a host. We believe they could carry it on their own.

This place is built on a risk. It shouldn’t be that difficult for us to take a risk on a pre-game show. It doesn’t have to look like every other show that’s out there. If you get the right four guys, it can work.

Why is it working with these guys?

It works because they all get along. Two, they’re big basketball fans. Three, they all have something to say. Magic is great. He’s exactly who you think he is. He’s even a better person.

What about the comparisons to TNT’s show?

We don’t have Charles Barkley. We’re not getting him. Everyone understands that. That’s OK. We’re happy with the show we have. I’ve never seen anything positive written about our show since we’ve gotten the NBA until this year. We’re pleased with how it’s turned out.

Does this mean hosts are going to be passe on ESPN’s studio shows?

No. There are a lot of shows where you want a host. You want to ask a specific question. You want Chris Fowler to host College Gameday. In that show, you need someone to get you from point A to point B to point C. It’s a two-hour show.

NBA Countdown is different. What we’ve done works for this show.







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