To promote the premiere of Andre the Giant Tuesday night (here’s our review), Bill Simmons appeared on the WTF with Marc Maron podcast. But if you’re a regular listener of Maron’s podcast, you know that it’s always a longform (one hour-plus) interview. He won’t just let you come on there and use his show to shill something.
Maron isn’t much of a sports fan, but knew of Simmons through their mutual success with podcasts. So the conversation includes a lot of stuff that regular Awful Announcing listeners and sports media observers have already read or heard about, such as how Simmons’s career began as AOL’s Boston Sports Guy, his move over to ESPN, the tensions with management over his column and Grantland, and the events that led to Simmons leaving ESPN.
(For what it’s worth, Simmons thinks ESPN is in great shape now. The company was just behind, especially in underestimating the cord-cutting phenomenon.)
But there were a couple of nuggets of information that sports media and Simmons fans may not have known about or hasn’t been widely reported. You can listen to the entire podcast at the WTF site or the player we’ve embedded here.
Simmons had written a baseball movie for ESPN
Upon returning to ESPN in 2004 following his year-and-a-half writing for Jimmy Kimmel Live, Simmons was asked to write a baseball movie. Considering how much time Simmons has devoted to write about sports movies, getting him to write one of his own seemed like a good idea.
According to Simmons, he wrote the script and the film was about to go into production. But then-ESPN president George Bodenheimer was at a Yankees game in owner George Steinbrenner’s booth. Steinbrenner was apparently a character in Simmons’s script, and Bodenheimer either realized or it came up during conversation that the network couldn’t “fuck with our partners,” as Simmons put it.
The project was scrapped. Simmons went on to create an animated series for ESPN. But he did get to work on a baseball movie nearly 10 years later as an executive producer on Disney’s Million Dollar Arm.
His deal with HBO isn’t done with Andre the Giant
While conducting an audio post-mortem on the canceled Any Given Wednesday, in which Simmons admits that he was wrong about the podcast interview format translating to television (“What’s fun about watching two people talk?”), Maron asked if he was still in business with HBO. Simmons confirmed that he and the network have “a couple cool things coming that we haven’t announced yet and I’m really excited about.”
He didn’t explain what those projects were (not even a hint), but went on to explain that things with HBO were a bit uncertain after the cancellation because the network was being more careful with its production decisions as the AT&T-Time Warner merger was coming together. But now that it appears the merger will happen, he expects HBO to be more active.
Simmons’s role on the Andre the Giant doc was as a sounding board
Going back to what he learned as a producer on the 30 for 30 series, Simmons says he knew to hire good filmmakers and then get out of the way. Those directors will disappear for a while as they immerse themselves in research and the filmmaking process.
But a filmmaker can also get too close to the material and can’t see problems that another eye, from someone he or she trusts, might notice. That’s the role Simmons says he played with Jason Hehir on Andre the Giant, pointing out necessary changes. “I know you love that France footage,” he gave as an example, “but if we just take that one part out, just try it — it might not work.” Judging from the response to the documentary, everyone involved did good work.