Simmons’ contract with ESPN was not renewed in early May – a decision that came four months before his pact with the company was set to expire; his departure was followed fairly quickly by news ESPN also was parting ways with Keith Olbermann and Colin Cowherd and, of course, three makes a trend.
At ESPN, Simmons was a columnist, podcaster, an EP of docu series 30 for 30, and also was editor in chief of sports/culture web site Grantland. Simmons continues to be paid by ESPN until his contracts runs out at the end of September, explaining the October start date on his new HBO pact. But Simmons, who had a 15-year relationship with ESPN, has not been seen on the network, nor has he had any involvement with Grantland, since May when ESPN John Skipper announced in an interview, reportedly to Simmons’ surprise, “I’ve decided that I’m not going to renew his contract. We’ve been talking to Bill, and it was clear that we weren’t going to get to the terms, so we were better off focusing on transition.”
In marked contrast, HBO programming president Michael Lombardo enthused this morning, “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.”
Simmons returned the compliment this morning, saying, “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.”
And, in fact, HBO will become Simmons’ exclusive television home when the overall agreement kicks in, in October. It includes a talk show set to premiere in 2016 that will air on the main HBO service, as well as the HBO digital platforms HBO GO® and HBO NOWSM. The topical show will feature stories and guests from across the sports and cultural landscapes.
Simmons also will have a production deal to produce content for the network and its digital platforms, including video podcasts and features. In addition, Simmons will consult with HBO Sports, working closely with HBO Sports president Ken Hershman on non-boxing-related programming. That includes the development of new show and docus for HBO. Ironically, when Simmons helped create ESPN’s 30 for 30 film series that became an ongoing franchise in that network’s push into docus, Simmons was quoted forecasting it would would “destroy” HBO Sports’ documentary gains.