Sports networks are experimenting all the time with new ways to deliver games to viewers. We’ve seen special camera angles, special megacasts, special things done with announcers, we’ve even seen First Take make an appearance during halftime of Monday Night Football. Ok, maybe that last one wasn’t so special.
In that same vision, TNT will reportedly be shaking it up this winter, giving some of their traditional play by play announcers the night off and having every game broadcast being completely staffed by former players in a “Players Only” theme.
The news was first reported by The Big Lead and later confirmed by Turner. Details from the Turner release:
Turner’s TNT will debut a brand-new NBA Monday night franchise titled Players Only, five consecutive weeks of doubleheader action centered on showcasing the game exclusively through the unique lens of the professional basketball player, beginning Monday, Feb. 27, at 7 p.m. ET. TNT’s innovative approach to the new Monday series will incorporate a more conversational delivery and broader NBA player integrations into the telecasts to offer viewers an entertaining narrative and deeper insights into the game directly from the athlete’s perspective.
All commentator roles for TNT’s Players Only will be comprised of former professional basketball players, including those in more traditional play-by-play, studio host and reporter positions. TNT’s Players Only roster will include two game commentator teams – Brent Barry (primary host and play-by-play) with Derek Fisher and Grant Hill; and Greg Anthony (primary host and play-by-play) with Kevin McHale and Richard “Rip” Hamilton – along with reporters Lisa Leslie and Dennis Scott. Additional NBA players will also contribute to Players Only throughout the five-week span.
Studio coverage from Atlanta will be anchored by Chris Webber with Isiah Thomas and Baron Davis. Additionally, segments from Area 21 with TNT analyst Kevin Garnett, joined by special guests each week, will be incorporated into the game and studio coverage throughout the evening.
Apparently Anthony and Barry will handle what amounts to play-by-play duties while Webber will be the studio host. It’s also interesting to note the appearance of some newish faces like Richard Hamilton, Derek Fisher, and Baron Davis being a part of that while Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, and Shaquille O’Neal aren’t anywhere to be seen. If you were doing a “Players Only” night one would think the main analysts would be a part of that. Then again, since it’s a special Monday night franchise, maybe Turner just wanted to go ahead and try something completely different.
It’s an interesting idea and one that TNT has tried before. In April 2013 TNT had a broadcast booth of Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, and Steve Kerr. It was Kerr who filled some kind of hybrid role of part analyst, part facilitator, and part play-by-play man. The results were interesting, but showed why something like this is only “experimental” and not the next big thing in broadcasting. While the conversational feeling of the broadcast was engaging at times, there were also moments where the lack of an actual play-by-play announcer was telling. In truth, Kerr made the broadcast by stepping up to the challenge of alternating between all those different roles. Can Anthony and Barry do the same? Will they actually try to do more traditional play-by-play or will it be something different entirely?
The “Players Only” concept might be enough of a curiosity to get a few extra people to watch, but when the TNT roster is stacked with so many great broadcasters like Marv Albert, Kevin Harlan, Ernie Johnston, etc. you do have to wonder how these broadcasts will stand up with a normal broadcast night.