HBO Snares Bill Simmons in Multi-Year TV, Digital Deal

Former ESPN Mainstay to Launch a Talk Show in 2016

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Bill Simmons.
Bill Simmons. Credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

HBO and Bill Simmons on Wednesday confirmed what may have been one of the summer's worst-kept secrets, announcing that the former ESPN personality is joining forces with the premium cable network.

As part of an exclusive multi-year, multi-platform deal, Mr. Simmons will host a weekly HBO talk show to begin sometime in 2016. While details are understandably scant, the prime-time series will lean heavily on Mr. Simmons' two major touchstones, sports and pop culture. HBO will also enlist the 45-year-old Grantland founder to contribute "content and assets" (read: podcasts, features, etc.) for HBO and its various digital assets.

Interestingly enough, while the release explicitly states that HBO will serve as Mr. Simmons' exclusive TV home, it would appear that he's free to contribute to outside digital-media outlets. If nothing else, this could provide an opportunity for Mr. Simmons to contribute to online NBA coverage by HBO sibling TNT.

Already overstuffed with on-screen talent as it is -- the four-man "Inside the NBA" crew includes the larger-than-life studio analysts Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal -- TNT simply doesn't have the bandwidth to accommodate another voice in its ratings-topping NBA on TNT coverage. But a digital play would allow Mr. Simmons to sate his notorious enthusiasm for pro hoops while bringing another NBA expert into the fold.

Among the relevant digital properties run by Turner Sports are and Bleacher Report.

"We have been fans of Bill Simmons and his work for a very long time," HBO Programming President Michael Lombardo said in a statement. "His intelligence, talent, and insights are without precedent in the areas he covers. 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."

For his part, Mr. Simmons praised his new employer as "the single best place for creative people in the entire media landscape" before adding that once talks began in earnest with Mr. Lombardo and HBO CEO Richard Plepler, "it was hard to imagine being anywhere else."

Mr. Simmons will pick up his HBO key card on Oct. 1, or a year to the day after his ESPN contract was set to expire. He left ESPN in mid-May, after president John Skipper announced that the network would not be renewing his contract.

The relationship between the voluble content generator and the cable sports giant had grown increasingly strained in recent months, as Mr. Simmons ran afoul of in-house rules about criticizing the network and its partners and making appearances on non-sanctioned radio broadcasts. Insiders said that despite Grantland's cachet and Mr. Simmons' social media reach (4.41 million Twitter followers and counting), the site simply did not generate enough traffic to justify his $5 million salary.

An ESPN mainstay since 2001, Mr. Simmons is the co-creator of the network's acclaimed documentary series "30 for 30" and was a prolific blogger and podcaster. In addition to his oversight of Grantland, he also appeared on the "NBA Countdown" pre-game show for two seasons.

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