The TV news magazine “Real Sports” returns to HBO on Tuesday night with a look at what some people consider the best comedy show on television. Not Fallon or Kimmel, Stewart or Colbert or even SNL. The subject is the NBA on TNT.
“Real Sports” correspondent Bernard Goldberg describes the popular NBA studio show as a cross between “Meet the Press” and “Animal House,” but maybe without the “Meet the Press” part.
Goldberg visits the set to chat with Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal about their program, which wraps around NBA game broadcasts on TNT, as it will throughout the playoffs.
Much of the show’S tone is set by Barkley, who is always willing to speak his mind, especially when he can get a laugh. There are websites devoted just to quotations from Barkley, such as:
• “I love the playoffs, but nobody likes working 40 straight days. Wasn’t that how long Moses was on the ark?”
• On playing games at Boston Garden: “They spit at you and throw things at you and talk about your mom. It sounds like dinner at Kenny Smith’s house.”
• “If I was commissioner, I’d have a rule, once a game, that you get to go pick somebody out of the stands and beat the hell out of them.”
Goldberg points out that Barkley even jokes about “the third rail of American society,” which is race.
In one NBA on TNT segment, Barkley got makeup on his face to make him look a whiter shade of pale.
“Great, now I can drive my car as fast as I want without getting stopped,” Barkley joked.
Barkley explains to Goldberg, “I look at it like this. There’s race and there’s racism. I know the difference.”
Tim Kiely is the NBA on TNT’s executive producer. He encourages and enjoys the show’s irreverent humor, but he did worry one night that they went too far.
They were broadcasting on Martin Luther King day, and in one of the arenas, an artist was painting a quick portrait of Dr. King. Barkley pointed out that the picture bore a striking resemblance to NBA player Oliver Miller, and the cameras did a split-screen picture pointing out the similarities.
“That night driving home,” Kiely tells Goldberg, “I was thinking about us comparing Oliver Miller to one of the greatest human beings in history. I figured, I’m out of a job.”
Shaq’s sense of humor has helped him fit right in since he joined the show after retiring in 2011. The HBO piece shows Shaq and Barkley having a scuffle on the court during their playing days.
“I had to hit him,” O’Neal explains to Goldberg. “Shaqdiesel can never look like a wuss.”
Shaq comes in for plenty of teasing from Barkley during their shows together. Goldberg asks O’Neal if he ever feels like smacking Charles?
“Every day,” Shaq says. “Sometimes I want to come across and just choke him, on national TV. The ratings would go through the roof, huh?”
As Goldberg says, “There hasn’t been this much chemistry on TV since ‘Breaking Bad’ went off the air.”
• A familiar face – and wardrobe – will be missing from TNT’s coverage of the NBA playoffs. Sideline reporter Craig Sager, known for his brightly colored sport coats, is undergoing treatment for leukemia that will last three to four weeks.
• In other basketball news, don’t miss the “Bad Boys” documentary airing on the ESPN networks, part of its “30 for 30” series. The Detroit Pistons of Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer era are profiled and it’s a fascinating look at that era of the NBA in the late 1980s. The next showing is Saturday at noon on ESPN2.
• The tweet of the week, sports division, is from golf writer Dan Jenkins: “To answer your questions: Tiger’s final-round Masters pool party doesn’t start until the back nine on Sunday.”
• Tweet of the week, non-sports division, was from WGRZ-TV: “Watch Ch. 2 at 11 for the homicide of a 16 month old, & why so many are excited about CanalsideBflo https://twitter.com/CanalsideBflo> for summer.” We assume those stories were unrelated.