One of sports television’s longest-running institutions is coming to an end. HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel is in its 29th season, and Deadline’s Peter White reported Wednesday that this current season will be the show’s last:
EXCLUSIVE: Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel is coming to an end after nearly 30 years. The long-running investigative sports series will end with its current season on HBO https://t.co/yTSoZeXdwf
— Deadline Hollywood (@DEADLINE) September 6, 2023
Here’s more on that from White’s piece:
Gumbel, who has been hosting the show since April 1995, said that his nearly three-decade run has been “very gratifying.”
“Since day one at Real Sports we’ve consistently tried to look beyond the scoreboard, and focus instead on the many societal issues inherent in the world of sports. In the process we’ve had the opportunity to tell complex stories about race, gender, class, opportunity and so much more. Being able to do so at HBO for almost 3 decades has been very gratifying. I’m proud of the imprint we’ve made, so I’m ready to turn the page. Although goodbyes are never easy, I’ve decided that now’s the time to move on,” Gumbel said.
…Stories broken by Gumbel during his Real Sports run have included exposing a child slavery ring in the UAE where 5-year-old boys were forced to race camels, investigations into the International Olympic Committee, the police shooting of a teenage boy and Shaquille O’Neal’s revelation that he has made more money per year from endorsements than he did from his NBA career.
…Casey Bloys, Chairman and CEO, HBO and Max Content, said: “For 29 seasons, Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel has delivered a masterclass in sports storytelling. … As the longest-running HBO series, Bryant and his Real Sports team have long been a cornerstone of HBO programming. The series will continue to resonate in the realm of sports journalism, and we are so proud to have been part of such a remarkable odyssey.”
Real Sports certainly hit those highs and more over its run. Beyond host Gumbel and the segments he’s helmed, the show has had an incredible roster of correspondents, including current figures Mary Carillo, Jon Frankel, David Scott, Andrea Kremer, Soledad O’Brien, and more, and past figures Frank Deford, James Brown, Jim Lampley, Bryan Burwell, Armen Keteyian, Lesley Visser, and more. And it’s won 37 Sports Emmys and three Peabody Awards.
The show has done a ton of notable segments over the years, covering everything from skateparks built by Pearl Jam’s Jeff Ament to competitive birdwatching to sexual assault allegations against Deshaun Watson to psychedelic drugs as a head trauma treatment to sports’ 2020 reactions to COVID-19 and racial injustice. And they were even cited by others as reasons not to dive in too deep, with Fox’s David Neal saying ahead of the controversial 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar that his company wouldn’t go too far off the field, telling Jonathan Tannenwald of The Philadelphia Inquirer “We believe that viewers come to Fox Sports during the World Cup to see the greatest sports event in the world. They don’t come to us expecting us to be [HBO’s] Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, or [ESPN’s] E: 60.” (For the record, both Real Sports and E:60 did not abdicate that responsibility, providing excellent coverage of all the problems with the “modern-day slavery” conditions for migrant workers in Qatar that was a far cry from Fox’s handling (or non-handling) of the subject.)
What made Real Sports work across such a seemingly disparate array of topics? Well, as senior coordinating producer Nick Dolin, who’s been with the show since its second episode in 1995, told AA in 2022 around its 300th episode, their concept was much more about storytelling than particular subjects:
“The idea was always a good story well told. That was always the idea; deep reporting, long-format storytelling. That has not changed. Hopefully we’ve just gotten a little better at it. The idea is to tell stories that we think are interesting, informative, important, entertaining, and relevant, and tell them as well as we can tell them.”
“We look for universal stories. Stories about life and death. About power. About corruption. Stories about who we are. Who we want to be. Stories that reveal our best and worst qualities. All of those universal stories can be told through sports. And that’s what we’ve tried to do since 1995.”
“It’s ‘Does the story matter? Does the story tell us something beyond sports? Does the story tell us something about our society, our culture, our world, how we think, how we feel, what’s important to us?’ We’re looking for stories that will connect with people and help inform them and entertain them and teach them something.”
And as Carillo told AA in 2020, the show’s concept was seemingly timeless, as long as there were executives who believed in quality storytelling and good stories to be told:
“I think that as long as there is a passion for good storytelling, this show’s going to be around with its very, very, very good talent, as long as there are good stories out there.”
It’s unfortunate to see Real Sports end. But the show’s legacy will undoubtedly live on. Even if viewers will now need to turn elsewhere for that level of storytelling.
Real Sports’ archives can be streamed on Max. Their next episode will air Sept. 26 on HBO and Max.