Can NBC Or Amazon Create A Suitable ‘Inside The NBA’ Replacement?

While there’s still time for Warner Bros. Discovery to make a final push to nab the third piece of the NBA’s broadcast rights, much of the reporting indicates the longtime league partner will be boxed out of the latest rights deal in favor of NBC, Amazon, and ESPN.

If the league does in fact end up with two new national broadcast partners, there will be a fascinating bidding war for personalities, analysts, and broadcasters. There are no personalities bigger than the four members of Inside the NBA, and it doesn’t sound like that show will uproot en masse to a new network. Charles Barkley built an out into his new deal with TNT, but Ernie Johnson is expected to remain at the network, doing March Madness and MLB. Johnson is a devoted family man and being at home in Atlanta is particularly important to him, and no other network has its home base in the city. It’s unknown what the contractual situations are for Kenny “The Jet” Smith and Shaquille O’Neal, and even if they have a similar out to Barkley, it’s unclear if they’d want to move to another network (and potentially another city) to continue covering the league.

The only real hope of the show ending up on a new network is if it basically gets leased from Turner to another network, still shooting in the Atlanta studio with the same crew. While that makes a ton of sense to me, I have a hard time seeing another network setting aside its ego to understand the TNT crew does this better than anyone and working out a deal to keep a good thing going. As for why TNT Sports might be amenable to this kind of agreement, another network basically paying them for Inside would presumably help lessen the blow of losing the NBA.

That feels like a pipe dream, so we instead have to look at the options NBC and Amazon will have to try and replicate what TNT’s built. The first option is to try and bring Chuck, Shaq, and Kenny in with a new host. That would certainly work to a degree, as those three’s chemistry is unmatched, but that would also underestimate the importance Ernie plays in making Inside work. I’m also not sure that trio would even want to try doing it all together without him and the behind the scenes crew, the latter of which is an underappreciated piece of the puzzle.


Given the way NBC has gone about filling out its studio shows in other sports, I’d be fairly surprised if they were seriously in the mix for Barkley or Shaq given their cost. NBC’s biggest property is Sunday Night Football, and they have mostly opted not to bid for the biggest stars that enter media free agency for their studio shows — the one time they did ended up being a disaster with Drew Brees.

The same can be said about their Big Ten and Notre Dame coverage, and I think the way they’ve approached those can give us an idea of what they’ll do with the NBA. Maria Taylor hosts both shows, with Sunday nights featuring longtime analysts Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison on site, while Chris Simms, Devin McCourty, and Jason Garrett are in studio. Saturday’s studio team is Taylor, Matt Cassel, Michael Robinson, and Joshua Perry. While both crews are good at what they do, the overall tone of those shows is far different from Inside, as they’re much more rigid about providing analysis over letting big, dynamic personalities drive the show.

On the studio side, I’d expect them to look for mostly younger ex-players on their studio desk, with perhaps one experienced TV analyst on their radar (say, Kenny Smith), and hope to catch a little lightning in a bottle. If not, they won’t have broken the bank further after spending fairly extravagantly to get rights. Given network constraints, I doubt they’ll look to pay top dollar for what will amount to a pregame/halftime show on the main network and possibly a postgame show on Peacock, as NBC proper will move onto other network programming, much like ABC games do — after NFL games, they do a very quick postgame show before moving on to the local news. While they do have a 30-minute postgame show for their Premier League broadcasts, it’s much easier to have one of those when you’re looking to put something on the air on an afternoon where you need to fill the time and far more difficult to do when you have to worry about, say, letting the local news get on the air before Saturday Night Live.

That said, I would expect them to be in the hunt for a top broadcast booth like Kevin Harlan and Reggie Miller, as they’ve traditionally been more willing to spend in that area over studio analysts. They’ve paid big money to bring in top voices for the Premier League, while they made sure they had Mike Tirico in waiting for when Al Michaels left (ultimately jumping to Amazon) and paired him with Cris Collinsworth for Sunday Night Football. Their top Big Ten booth features a lesser-heralded but well-regarded play-by-play man in Noah Eagle, while Todd Blackledge is a veteran broadcaster who was at ESPN for years.


Amazon is the network that has the money and space to try and replicate Inside in some form or fashion. I would presume Amazon is the heavy favorite to land Barkley (and Shaq, if he’s interested) in the expected new broadcast landscape for a couple of reasons. For one, the schedule would be essentially the same as what they already have if they end up with the expected Thursday night NBA package, and my guess is Barkley will not be looking to add more nights to his schedule. On top of that, they have more reason to want to build a strong studio show than NBC. Unlike a network, which flips to new programming, Amazon looks at sports as a way to bring people to the app and try to keep them there with continued coverage in studio/on-site, similar to TNT. ESPN certainly could make that decision, but has chosen instead to send it to Scott Van Pelt’s SportsCenter after the game, while a network like NBC has local news and other programming constraints.

So much of the magic of TNT’s studio coverage is giving their personalities time to be themselves and go on tangents beyond the rigidity of a rundown. Whether pregame, halftime, or postgame, the reason ESPN has never been able to touch TNT’s studio show is in part because they don’t give their people time because they’re all just trying to hit their marks before the next commercial break. The other part is they don’t have Charles Barkley, but even he couldn’t be the Chuckster if he was given just 60 seconds to talk. He already regularly eats into his colleague’s time with as much space TNT provides — usually to the chagrin of Shaq — and I can’t imagine him being nearly as successful with even tighter time constraints.

While NBC likely can’t offer that kind of space due to the other things it has to put on the air, Amazon has shown it can and will get out of the way and embrace the personalities on the desk. The entire thought behind their Thursday Night Football postgame, TNF Nightcap, was to create football’s version of a late night show. That is a vibe Inside has perfected, and the way they’ve handled Nightcap gives me at least a little hope that they can create a space that is similar, even if with a different cast.

I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect any new show to fully live up to that standard (or longevity), but there are lessons to take away from their success beyond simply the personalities on the desk. Inside became the show it is because of an incredible collection of talent, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes — if I were Amazon or NBC, I’d be looking to bring as many of the behind the scenes people from TNT’s NBA crew over as possible, whether they’re part of their studio show or their broadcasts of games. The continuity and camaraderie between the on-air cast and the production team is exceedingly rare, they are in lockstep with what they want the show to be, and are given free rein to make the show they want by the network bosses.

The only way to replicate that is to provide them with space to be themselves, figure out how to play to each other’s strengths, and build that genuine chemistry. Anyone that remembers the early years of Shaq’s time at TNT knows it doesn’t happen immediately, as Shaq tried to one-up Chuck and force bits into the show. Eventually, he realized his place on that desk and is the best at winding Chuck up to deliver his most iconic rants. Whatever the new studio crews look like, whether they pair some of the Inside crew together or not, they’ll need some time to find that rhythm. If we’re lucky, that right group will eventually come together and give us another decade-long run.