Inside TNT’s Inside The NBA Show
The Emmy Award-winning TV show hosts LeBron James’ return to Cleveland.
by Kyle Stack / @KyleStack
When the NBA released the first portion of its ‘10-11 regular-season schedule in early August, Tim Kiely observed at least two games at which TNT’s Inside The NBA studio show should be present. Not surprisingly, both involved the Miami Heat.
One was a high-profile match-up with the defending Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics. The other game was against a Cleveland Cavaliers squad weakened in the offseason by the loss of its key player — LeBron James.
Kiely, a coordinating producer for Inside The NBA, feels it’s critical that the show, with host Ernie Johnson and analysts Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley, occasionally leave the comfort of its Atlanta studios for the excitement of a regular-season game. The criteria is that the contest be highly anticipated, which is precisely the case with James returning to Cleveland for the first time since he decided to form a Big Three trio in Miami with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
“The idea this year was we saw an opportunity to take the studio on the road in the regular season to big games and big cities and see what works,” Kiely said in a phone interview from TNT’s Atlanta offices. “We were going to go on the road anyway, and obviously with what happened with LeBron, that made a game that could have been a regular game into a pretty big deal.”
The popularity of Inside The NBA, which has won five Emmy Awards for best studio show since the Johnson/Barkley/Smith trio formed in 2000, assures that the scene at the arena will be even more raucous with its presence.
Setting up the show
The studio show is typically set up in an area where Smith and Barkley can interact with fans — either courtside or in a section of seats above what’s known as a vomitory, an entranceway players use to enter and exit the court. Occasionally, the host team will offer the studio crew a spot in a luxury suite or a restaurant somewhere in the arena, but that’s usually turned down. “The problem with that is we’re pulled away from the crowd,” said Steve Fiorello, a coordinating director for Inside The NBA. “We want to be in the heart of it.”
Fiorello and other crew members survey locations well in advance of the show’s on-air date at the arena; Fiorello visited Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena in early November. They settled on a courtside location for the Cavs-Heat game, since the Cavaliers didn’t want them to build a set on top of the vomitory, as they had done in the past.
The surveying process is simplified by the fact the studio crew has been to most of the League’s arenas. They know the lay of the land for most venues, so there aren’t many surprises on their visits. And it’s not as if they typically have much space in which to work, anyway.
Fiorello said they work in a space no larger than 12′ x 12′ or 14′ x 14′, in which they can place a bar-height type table for branding and for Johnson to put his notes on, stools for the on-air cast to sit on and enough room to squeeze in the rest of the crew, their cameras and lighting equipment. Four hand-held cameras are brought from the studio, three of which are used on the set itself. The fourth roams around for pre- and post-game interviews or shots of the players warming up on the floor.
The simplification of the surveying process is a reflection of the ease with which the decision is made to visit a venue in the first place. “It’s not a massively complex decision because we’ve done it before,” Kiely said. He’ll contact the NBA, which will typically sign off on the idea, leaving the home team to approve the request and help figure out a part of the arena at which the show can settle in.
Figuring out where to put the green room for on-air talent to get ready and where to place the studio’s mobile truck that houses staff and equipment also come into play, although those are more easily-settled issues. The game crew, that is the crew the directs and produces the announcing crew for the game, will typically set up in a mobile truck on a street outside the arena. The same goes for the extra mobile truck needed for when Inside The NBA is present at an arena.
Inside The NBA’s culture
Nobody knows quite what to expect when James enters Quicken Loans Arena, except that the situation could become awkward and uncomfortable very quickly. What’s a much easier prediction to make is the enthusiasm with which the crowd will receive the Inside The NBA crew.
“When we show up, we become this voice of basketball,” said Smith, who admitted he didn’t want that comment to come off as arrogant. It’s just that he and Barkley have such cache with fans from their role on the show that people feel closer to them.
Smith said fans are more likely to approach him to start a conversation now than during his NBA career, which lasted for 10 seasons on six teams. And Smith and Barkley’s honesty about various NBA topics can make fans feel as if the two former players are an extension of their thoughts. “Because Charles and I have such loud opinions about things, there’s more heckling going on [with the fans]. It’s a lot more fun,” Smith insisted.