Bill Simmons is headed to HBO.
Wednesday's announcement wasn't huge surprise. In the three months since Simmons was fired by ESPN, HBO was always at the top of any speculative landing place for the Sports Guy. In interviews, I often said I thought he was headed to Fox, with Turner as a wild card. This is what's known in the business as being "loud wrong."
Simmons to HBO is a no-brainer. HBO doesn't have any rights packages to worry about, so Simmons can insult Roger Goodell or whomever he wants without fear of suspension. He can curse. He can produce movies in the 30-for-30 vein (always the best part of his legacy at ESPN). He can host a weekly talk show.
That talk show is the centerpiece of his new deal, and it will be fascinating to watch. HBO's the home of the most relevant, funny and important talk show these days - Last Week with John Oliver. Oliver's weekly rants are YouTube gold and are some of the most incisive journalistic commentary around.
One TV executive raised Oliver's name in relation to Simmons:
Mr. Simmons has a voice and is a personality ... Personalities work! Look at what John Oliver has done for HBO — getting headlines within minutes.
Can Simmons be the John Oliver of sports?
Probably not. Oliver's commentaries on sports (the NCAA; FIFA corruption; stadium construction) have been cutting, jaw-dropping, and sensational. That doesn't seem to be Simmons' personality. Not that Simmons won't take strong stands (I can see him attacking Goodell and ESPN right out of the gate), but the kind of shredding that Oliver does doesn't seem to be what Simmons does. For him to try to be John Oliver would feel forced and ultimately fail. Simmons much more of a fan than a critic - which is fine. That voice is what made Simmons the most popular sports writer of the digital age.
Which brings up another interesting point.
Simmons' deal is TV focused. There's nothing in the initial reports about Simmons doing any writing for HBO. No columns. No posts. No Grantland-esque site.
It may be that Simmons is done regularly writing, that he wants to do TV and podcasts more. Certainly, if he wants to write, he will be able to find a home on a freelance basis (hell, Sports Media Guy is open). But it's interesting that for being such a successful sports writer, his new deal has no writing involved.
A few weeks ago, I asked you all if you missed Bill Simmons. Of 58 votes cast, 39 people voted yes. (more than two-thirds). It's as unscientific a poll as possible. And it's a bit of a loaded one. There's no nuance in a yes-no question. If you missed Simmons even a bit or even for a very specific thing - like his NBA Draft Diary or his take on the NBA finals - then by definition, you missed him. But the poll does suggest a thirst for Simmons. People did love him, they did read him, they did follow him.
But will they follow him to HBO?
Did they miss Bill Simmons? Or did they miss Bill Simmons' writing? If so, how will that audience react to their favorite writing not writing anymore?
That will be fascinating to watch.