NBA TV’s The Starters has attracted a cult following since its premiere on the network six years ago. It’s a silly, irreverent look at the NBA each weeknight, and while the show hasn’t attracted widespread viewership, it’s been received very well by most people who watch it.
That all appears to be coming to an end. According to the Washington Post, NBA TV will be cancelling The Starters following the conclusion of the NBA season this summer. The contracts of hosts Tas Melas, Leigh Ellis, Trey Kirby, and JE Skeets and producers Jason Doyle and Matt Osten all expire this summer, and will not be renewed. A year ago, it seemed like NBA TV was more optimistic about the future of The Starters, even allowing them to host a nightly NBA Summer League recap show for a week in Las Vegas, which included them calling a game (and dressing like showgirls).
However, don’t mourn The Starters for too long. The Post also reported that the foursome have already begun talking to other media outlets, which CAA confirmed in a statement about their departure from NBA TV.
“The guys thank Turner for their six years,” said a statement from Creative Artist Agency, which represents the hosts. “They’re looking forward to their next steps and we’ve had conversations with a number of interested parties.”
The Post’s report contained conflicting information on why NBA TV decided to move on from The Starters. One source claimed it was because of corporate-mandated cost cutting from AT&T, while another source (from Turner) claimed that the decision was made by Turner and the NBA and had nothing to do with AT&T. Turner’s statement seemed to indicated that there was a little bit from column A and a little bit from column B behind the decision.
“We greatly appreciate all of the contributions made by ‘The Starters’ over these last six seasons,” a Turner Sports spokesman said. “Many factors influenced these decisions and we wish them all the best as they continue to further evolve their brand.”
As for where The Starters will end up next, there are three options that immediately spring to mind.
- ESPN+. ESPN is an NBA rightsholder, and has minimal NBA content behind the ESPN+ paywall (the Kobe Bryant-hosted Detail stands out from the mass of docuseries and similar projects). It would seemingly be a natural fit, especially with ESPN’s “Teen Stream” alternate broadcast attempt from earlier in the NBA Finals. Having a broadcast similar to that one, but with The Starters as the four hosts, would probably have gotten much more positive attention and feedback.
- DAZN. DAZN wants to make a splash in the American market (still), and adding NBA content would be a step in the right direction. Could The Starters host an NBA whiparound-style show, in the vein of DAZN’s MLB ChangeUp?
- The Ringer. Before The Starters were, well, The Starters, they hosted a podcast called The Basketball Jones, which eventually became part of Grantland. Grantland’s been dead and buried for awhile now, but Bill Simmons launched The Ringer shortly after leaving ESPN, and it has a similar voice to Grantland. Plus, the site arguably covers the NBA more than any other sport, it needs more original content following the series finale of Game of Thrones, and podcasts and video content have been a huge part of The Ringer’s output. It just seems like another natural fit, doesn’t it?
So while The Starters may be entering its final days as an NBA TV product, it seems reasonable to assume that they’ll have a new home before the start of the 2019-20 season.