Bill Simmons has found his next act.
As The Hollywood Reporter first reported in an HBO cover story in mid-June, the ESPN cast-off will make HBO his exclusive TV home. At the premium cable network, Simmons will launch his own talk show in 2016. The weekly show, which will air on HBO’s linear service as well as HBO Go and HBO Now, will be both topical and spontaneous, with stories and guests across the sports and cultural landscape.
As part of the multi-year, multi-platform pact, which begins in October, Simmons will also have a production deal to produce content for the network and its digital platforms, delivering video, podcasts and features as he did at ESPN. Additionally, the long-time sports personality will consult for HBO Sports, working closely with HBO Sports president Ken Hershman on non-boxing-related programming, including the development of shows and documentary films for the network.
“We have been fans of Bill Simmons and his work for a very long time. His intelligence, talent and insights are without precedent in the areas he covers. We could not be more thrilled for him to bring those talents to HBO and to become a signature voice at the network, spanning the sports and pop culture landscapes,” HBO programming president Michael Lombardo said in a statement Wednesday.
Simmons added: “It’s no secret that HBO is the single best place for creative people in the entire media landscape. From the moment I started talking to Michael and Richard [Plepler, HBO chairman and CEO], it was hard to imagine being anywhere else.”
The news comes nearly two months after ESPN, Simmon’s home of 14 years, unceremoniously dumped the prolific on-air/online personality, whose other contributions include Grantland, popular podcasts and the critically praised 30 for 30 documentary franchise. Simmon’s following, which includes 4.3 million Twitter followers, was no doubt of appeal to HBO, which is looking to grow its stable of must-see personalities in an increasingly on-demand era of TV viewing.
In recent years, Simmons has become not only one of the best-known media personalities in sports but also one of the most outspoken. During his ESPN tenure, he was famously unafraid to criticize the sports world’s most powerful inhabitants, including NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. A tirade against Goodell on Simmons’ podcast, for instance, earned him a three-week suspension, without pay, last September. And earlier this spring, he took another public swipe at the commissioner for his handling – or in Simmon’s view, mishandling — of DeflateGate on Dan Patrick’s radio show.
ESPN president John Skipper, like Simmons, has remained tight-lipped about the precise cause for his firing, just as he has on the early July decision to yank another controversial ESPN personality, Keith Olbermann. At the network’s upfront presentation in mid-May, Skipper told reporters only that “it was business,” adding that his decision not to re-up Simmon’s contract does “not detract from the appreciation I have for Bill Simmons.”
HBO is poised to be a good fit for Simmons, whose colorful — and at times controversial — commentary will be welcomed at the premium cable network, which doesn’t depend on advertiser revenue or lucrative deals with leagues like the NFL. What’s more, HBO launched its standalone service, HBO Now, earlier this spring, and is seeking more timely, younger-skewing content, like Simmons’, that is likely cut through in an on-demand universe.
Several close to Simmons, who’s been courted by several entities following his ESPN ouster, say they wouldn’t be surprised to see the prolific columnist launch another Grantland-esque site for his written commentary moving forward. The two-time New York Times best-selling author got his start writing for ESPN.com in 2001, before segueing into lead columnist for ESPN The Magazine for seven years. In the years that followed, he was part of Jimmy Kimmel Live‘s early writing staff and had remained a must-read columnist for his own Grantland until his springtime exit.
Simmons is repped by Dixon Talent/WME and Hanson Jacobson.
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