Bill Simmons and the death of “Any Given Wednesday”

By | November 9, 2016
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Bill Simmons Any Given Wednesday Ben Affleck

By now, most of you have heard that HBO canceled Bill Simmons’ Any Given Wednesday sports & pop culture talk show after 17 episodes — the last of which airs tonight — after less than five months.

I will start by unabashedly saying that I consider Bill Simmons to be a blogging “hero” of sorts, and someone whose success i’ve looked to emulate. I am as far removed from the “sports trolls” of the internet who competes for the snarkiest comment left on every Deadspin post about anything anti-Simmons as you’ll find. As someone who works in marketing as their “day job,” I have great respect for the combination of textbook branding and entertaining, intelligent, and well-delivered content that he cultivated into a mutli-million dollar career.

So, all of that being said, I think the following statement should carry some relative weight: I tried watching two or three episodes Any Given Wednesday, and couldn’t get through more than three or four minutes of any of them. I found them to be disjointed, vapid, and worst of all: simply not entertaining.

When news broke of the show’s cancellation, Simmons said the content basically didn’t resonate with his fans. In my opinion, I think the the biggest problem was that his show veered closer to what most people increasingly hate about ESPN: being more interested in “sizzle” — hot takes, big names, and erasing the line between sports and entertainment — versus providing insightful and thoughtful content.

Simmons rose to fame with fantastic columns about his life as a Boston sports fan, and the trials and tribulations with it. His columns like “the annual NBA trade value” and “the atrocious GM summit,” or even his weekly picks in column form, were chock-full of fantastic insights backed with actual stats and analysis, on top of deft writing delivered in his brilliantly cultivated writing voice.

But Any Given Sunday was chock-filled with inane schlock. I find it amazing how little discussion there was about the brutally homerrific conversation he had with a clearly-inebriated Ben Affleck in the show’s debut. His attempts at comedic skits & sketch comedy that he did with Michael Rapaport were basically unwatchable. Him trying to pretend he knows anything, or can converse at any competent level, about hip-hop music with Nas, was brutally awkward.

In general, I don’t understand why Simmons believed he could replace the phenomenal content he produced for so long, with celebrity/big name guests who provide the same shallow, thoughtless, and meaningless stuff that you can find in any other meaningless sports talk show (like every single piece of non-SportsCenter programming that ESPN puts out). His situation feels so much like the classic metaphor of a great music band who rose to prominence by dominating a particular niche, cultivating a loyal fan base, and then completely turning on its roots — and its fans — by “selling their souls” in the name of making more money.

I get that being czar of a multi-media empire, and balancing that with being a family man with two kids, is incredibly difficult. At this point in my life, i’m neither.

But what’s alarming to me, as far as Simmons, is that it’s abundantly clear that, in recent years, he barely watches any of (non-basketball) sports that he so frequently talks about, outside of whoever the Patriots are playing and whoever the opponent is at the Los Angeles Kings games that he takes his children to. I listen to his podcasts religiously, and I find myself saying — out loud, at times — the same thing, more and more often: “does this guy have any clue what he’s talking about?”

His weekly NFL picks podcast with Joe House is more and more atrocious each week. It’s basically become a bettors cheatsheet for: “whatever Simmons and House make as their picks, bet heavily on the opposite.” The only value in said podcast is his weekly call with Mike Lombardi of Fox Sports 1 (with the caveat that you sufficiently brace for the relentless Patriots ball-washing that takes place when the two of them talk). His annual NBA over/under podcast with House was as rushed, shallow, and shoddy as anything he’s produced in years. And again, his blind-Boston homerism schtick has gotten increasingly unbearable over the years, as he’s morphed into more and more of a “Masshole,” despite living in Los Angeles all the while.

To be clear: I remain a huge fan of Simmons. I’m still rooting for him, and will continue to do so. In a world where Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith are still being paid millions of dollars to shout brain-dead opinions at volumes that make your ears and eyes bleed, Simmons was the guy who actually helped make you a more informed — and simultaneously entertained — sports fan when you were done reading or listening to the things he had to say.

So, since I share his same affinity for the Rocky series, in the 0.00000001% chance he’s reading this:

Simmons, you’ve turned into Rocky Balboa in the first half of Rocky III. You’re half-assedly doing shit among all the glitz and glam, while the world is filled with sharks looking to come and knock you off your perch. You need to look at the cancellation as your Clubber Lang moment. You need to stop reading your own press clippings, go back to doing things “old school,” and re-devote yourself to your craft.

You’ve neglected the things that made you who you are: your gift for writing, your podcasts filled with great content and conversations with great minds, and viewing the world through the eyes of the common sports fan.

Go back to your roots, and rebuild yourself from the ground up. Re-dedicate yourself to what truly made you great: being a walking, talking sports encyclopedia combined who could discuss, analyze, and communicate ideas in a way that almost nobody else could. The sports talk world is so much better when you’re at your best.

Any Given Wednesday was a decent attempt at expanding your reach, but no matter how you spin it, you cheated your fans — and yourself — with the stuff you tried to fill the show with.

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