Inside TNT’s Inside The NBA Show
The Emmy Award-winning TV show hosts LeBron James’ return to Cleveland.
Part of the appeal for Smith and Barkley, and Johnson, starts with the chemistry they’ve formed on the set. The show’s culture seems to always be straddling a line between seriousness and light-heartedness. The guys know when to take a topic seriously and give meaningful analysis, but even then they don’t seem to ever take themselves too seriously. And they appear to always be on the verge of poking fun at each other. It’s an attitude shared by the entire studio crew, some of whom will help pull on-air pranks on Barkley or Smith.
“You have to have special people [for that], and Ernie, Kenny and Charles are,” Kiely said. “They’re bright, and they don’t have egos. They really don’t.”
Kiely said he’s found out the hard way that some guests who’ve appeared on the show don’t share that ability to laugh off being the butt of a joke. Some people have stormed off the set and told Kiely they’d never appear on the show again. “That’s fine, I get it,” he said. Kiely recalled one time when ex-Seattle SuperSonics point guard Gary Payton was set to go on the show. Barkley asked Payton if he had ever done anything dumb in front of a camera. Payton looked at him suspiciously. “Charles said if he had the TNT guys would have it [on the screen],” Kiely recalled.
The propensity of the studio crew to keep the set light-hearted is such that Kiely noted Johnson, Smith and Barkley will often start looking his way during the show if a joke or prank hasn’t been made. In that way, Kiely feels the show’s viewers can relate. Nobody on the set is unwilling to have their flaws revealed.
And fans seem appreciative, at least as can be judged by their reaction when the crew is in the arena for a game. Fiorello said that Barkley likes to mix it up with anybody nearby, no matter where in the arena they’re positioned. “Chuck is notorious for taking his headset off [during commercial breaks] and yapping with a fan or a celebrity sitting close by or one of the players warming up,” Fiorello said.
If Barkley or Smith, who sometimes signs autographs for fans during commercial breaks, is late returning to their seat by the time the show is back on-air, that’s OK with Kiely. He said awkward moments should be embraced on television. “If you’ve watched local TV, you can see [what happens] when a prompter goes out,” Kiely said. “The anchor starts panicking and that creates more awkwardness. My whole thing is tell people what’s happening. Let them see you sweat.”
The Heat-Cavs game plan
The return of James is likely to stir a type of emotion among Cleveland’s fans that isn’t often seen in US sports venues. Fans of opposing teams might fight amongst each other over team pride, but it’s rare to see a crowd level the sort of vitriol against a player that many expect Cleveland fans to place on James. Even with the unpredictability of what fans might do, Kiely isn’t worried that Smith, Barkley or anyone else will be in harm’s way.
“If you’re worried about that, then it’s like, why even go,” Kiely said. An ESPN.com report cited a member of the Cavaliers organization who claimed to be afraid of how fans will react at James’ return. Extra security for James and the Heat will be provided, but Kiely doesn’t expect that to have an impact on Inside The NBA.
“We’re trying to move the story to this is the first time he’s coming home,” Kiely said, stating that he isn’t interested in re-hashing the circumstances around James leaving Cleveland. In light of that, Kiely noted they might have sideline reporter Craig Sager speak with supporters and critics of James. If that’s done, it’ll be to discover how the emotions of fans have developed through the last few months.
That might make it difficult for the game to take on the importance a Thursday night TNT game normally has. But that’s understandable, according to Smith.
“The game will have a hard time taking precedence over the antics, where typically the game always takes precedence and always find a way to overshadow what is going on,” Smith explained. “This will be very difficult for the game to do that.”
Smith said the planning he and Barkley have done for game analysis is already complete. Their homework is the League, according to Smith. He explained that since he has a fundamental understanding of the way the teams play and the match-ups they present, he can go into a game with an open mind. He doesn’t want to go in with any preconceived notions, but he can draw back on his base of knowledge of each team to explain how they’ll play each other.
Being at the game will also enable Smith to provide viewers with a different type of analysis from what he would give at the studio in Atlanta. “Charles and I, being former players, sometimes can look at guys’ facial demeanor and can read more into that when we’re at the arena,” Smith said. It’s not that the analysis is more informative; it’s simply different information. Smith said he will simply give analysis at the game that he might hold back if he were at the studio, partly because seeing players up close gives him more assurance to make certain points he wouldn’t want to make by just watching them on TV.
Fiorello said focusing on how the teams will match up against each other is vital. Yet fan interaction with Smith and Barkley and, more importantly, with James, is paramount. “The main focus will be the interaction between the fans and LeBron,” Fiorello said.
As with any game at which the Inside The NBA crew is present, unpredictability will help elevate interest in the program. This game presents a scenario beyond what they normally experience, though. This time, the crew has to rely on its instincts more than ever to capture the unique environment surrounding them. Smith summed it up best when asked what he’s looking forward to regarding the Heat-Cavaliers game and the hype surrounding it.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen.”