How should LeBron James and ESPN fill an hour of primetime tomorrow night?

Senior Television Writer
07.07.10 50 Comments


My productivity has gone to hell this week because of one man: LeBron James.

I’m a Knicks fan, and after a decade of misery and humiliation, and after two years spent gutting the (admittedly heinous) roster for a shot at this one guy, I’m far more invested in the LeBron free agent sweepstakes than I should be. As a member of the media, I understand how the business works, and therefore that at least 99% of the tweets and blog posts and ESPN interviews about what “league sources” and “a source close to the James camp” know about where LeBron is going are bogus – because it’s more important to report anything at all and have content than wait for the right info – yet I can’t stop reading every damn one of them.

I said to a friend yesterday that I finally understand all those people who are constantly scouring the tabloids for new news bout the Jake/Vienna “Bachelor” split. This is completely meaningless, and yet the soap opera of it has consumed me.

So of course last night LeBron went and made the link even more overt by telling ESPN he wants to announce his decision in a one-hour primetime ESPN special on Thursday night. (And I love that in the linked story, “independent sources” had to confirm the LeBron/ESPN talks to an ESPN reporter. In-bred 21st century media, boys and girls.) The sportswriters I follow on Twitter (and goodness knows I’ve added a lot of them since July 1) have mostly been aghast, both at LeBron’s desperate need to be the center of attention and at the idea of a one-hour special to reveal something that can probably be dealt with in 10 minutes or less.

Clearly, most of these guys don’t watch a lot of reality TV (as opposed to Bill Simmons, who tweeted, “It’s the dramatic season finale of The LeBrachelor!”), because anyone who has knows there are many, many, many ways to pad out a few minutes worth of content into at least an hour. After the jump, I have some thoughts on which reality show models LeBron might try to follow…

Obviously, the easy way to go is “The Bachelor.” ESPN and ABC are part of the same corporate family, and I’m sure they could borrow Chris Harrison to talk about LeBron’s journey and, before each commercial break, exclaim, “Coming up… the most shocking free agent announcement ever!” We fill a lot of the hour with John Paxson, Donnie Walsh, Jay-Z, etc. all talking about how well their pitch meeting with LeBron went, how they felt there was a chemistry there, perhaps CGI up some footage of LeBron hanging with them all in a hot tub, etc., before everyone’s brought out on stage in formalwear as LeBron brings out his one and only rose.

Or we could go the “American Idol” route. Ryan Seacrest would never turn down a gig, and he could spend at least half the time moving Walsh, Pat Riley and the others around and around the stage in different combinations, declaring one group “safe” and one not. Put together a panel of ESPN personalities as a judges’ table – it’s a shame Stephen A. Smith no longer works there, as he’d be an ideal Randy analogue, and given how much Michael Wilbon hates “Idol,” he’d be in a perfectly cranky mood to play Simon – to speculate on LeBron’s choice throughout. Finally, with four minutes to go, LeBron reveals his choice, balloons and streamers drop, and the losing GM’s are serenaded with Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day” while Kelly Clarkson makes a dramatic return to greet the winning team with “A Moment Like This.”

And there’s always “America’s Next Top Model.” No need to actually call in Tyra (though I’d enjoy watching her tell Riley how to smize). Instead, put LeBron, Maverick Carter and the rest of the entourage on a dais and have the six finalists parade up and down a runway, followed by criticism of their walks, their presentations, their wardrobes (one anonymous, later redacted report said LeBron was put off by Knicks owner James Dolan’s appearance and by Walsh being in a wheelchair due to neck surgery) and their team rosters. At the end of it, LeBron announces, “I have one team logo in my hands…”

Now, most of these shows are in some way copying “Survivor,” so I could see LeBron bringing in Jeff Probst to reside over a special Akron-based final Tribal Council, where the remaining candidates plead their case for a posse made up of LeBron and his crew. During the question and answer period, LeBron might try to keep the audience guessing by pulling the old “Pick a number” trick from seasons one and three. Worldwide Wes (if he’s still in the LeBrontourage) could ask shady, gigantic Russian billionaire Nets owner Mikhail Prokohorov to explain why the other finalists don’t deserve to win. And somebody (agent Leon Rose, maybe?) would have to trot out a variation of “My question is, I WANT AN APOLOGY!” At the end, Probst reads a list of votes from the entourage, then says that “LeBron has spoken.”

What do you think? Did I miss any shows that might work? (Maybe a “Top Chef” Quickfire challenge where the GM’s all have to cook a dish representative of their city?) Does any of this sound more appealing than what LeBron and ESPN will likely actually put together? And whether you have a dog in this hunt or not, are you going to watch?

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