The Hollywood Reporter published a massive feature on HBO's return to dominance and future plans this morning and capped it off with a juicy personnel tidbit. The network is talking to former Grantland guru / ESPN leading light Bill Simmons about a potential TV show and "heavy digital extensions," insiders say, the first concrete report on Simmons' next move since his unceremonious departure from the sports giant last month.
There's no real certainty about what Simmons is going to do yet, but he and HBO are ideologically aligned: they both like to think of themselves as sitting at the vanguard of their respective mediums. Simmons' written fusion of sports, pop culture, and snark was groundbreaking, and he was an early force behind both podcasting and the launch of personality-driven online publications; HBO fancies themselves leaders with respect to both their programming and operations decisions. If Simmons wants to stay out in front of the media curve, or wants to keep from receding into complacent columnist purgatory like so many others have done, he'll likely find kindred spirits at the network.
There are plenty of other reasons why Simmons and HBO would make a decent match, too. They have the money to pay him and a more liberal attitude toward potentially incendiary punditry. Their sports coverage, currently anchored by boxing, reality shows, and documentaries, could use a shot in the arm, and Simmons' experience with 30 for 30 and other pieces of prestige programming could prove invaluable. And starting fresh with a TV-anchored presence, something he's "believed to want," would free him from some of the writerly obligations he's eager to leave behind.
His relationship with ESPN had a habit of turning contentious
Simmons enjoyed phenomenal success during his 14 years at ESPN, ascending from a thrice-weekly column slot on a secondary site to a prominent and influential position spanning several mediums. He became an omnipresent force online, in podcasts, and on TV. From a larger creative perspective, he was instrumental in the creation of both high-bro culture hub Grantland and the network's award-winning 30 for 30 documentary series. But his relationship with the company had a habit of turning contentious, particularly when Simmons couldn't help himself from speaking out. He took potshots at co-workers, competitors, and business partners, and his comments about NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on The Dan Patrick Show were likely the grenade that blew up a contract negotiation into a notably curt dismissal.
The Hollywood Reporter story notes that "Simmons is said to have several suitors," and there's been no shortage of external speculation. FOX Sports has been rumored as a destination, and the possibility remains that Simmons could strike out on his own with an infusion of VC money to speed things along. But until we know more, HBO's visibility, flexibility, and willingness to take a risk look pretty appealing.