By Barry Janoff
May 14, 2015: If you are among the plethora of people who enjoy the banter, antics and inside analysis of TNT on NBA's Inside the NBA quartet, the good news from Turner Broadcasting is that the contracts of Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O'Neal have all been renewed.
Johnson himself shared the news during Turner's UpFront on Wednesday (May 13), held in The Theatre in Madison Square Garden in New York, where he told the audience, "We will be back. We have been signed to long-term contracts."
Although other inside tidbits were revealed, financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The show has garnered 13 Sports Emmy Awards, the most recent given to Johnson for "best studio host" — who upon receiving it at the awards ceremony presented it to the daughters of Stuart Scott, the long-time ESPN anchor and analyst who passed away from cancer in January at the age of 49.
Barkley had been hesitant to re-sign, which analysts saw as a negotiation ploy. But when the four men were on-stage at the Upfront, joking about their future together, Barkley laughed as he said, "David Levy (Turner Broadcasting president) came to my house with two bottles of wine and two bottles of tequila, and we knocked them back. Then he asked me to sign a new contract and I did. My agent wasn't even there."
According to Lenny Daniels, president of Turner Sports, "We truly believe Inside the NBA is among the best studio shows of all time and a large part of its success is due to the unrivaled chemistry between Ernie, Charles, Kenny and Shaquille. We’re looking forward to continuing the creativity and pioneering spirit behind the show for a very long time.”
"I feel as if I have the best job on television," said Barkley. "I've been with Turner for 16 years. I look forward to coming to work every week."
On-stage, Smith half-jokingly responded to the thought that Barkley might have retired by saying, "Why would he retire. Only works one day a week."
During the Upfront, Johnson not only touted Turner's coverage of the NBA and the Inside the NBA show, but coverage of MLB, in conjunction with CBS the NCAA Men's Div. I Basketball tournament — which in 2016 for the first time will see the two semi-final games and the championship game air on TBS — and two new shows: the NBA Player Awards and The Dunk King, a reality series which will see competitors vie to see who is the best dunker while chasing a prize of $100,000.
Ultimately, when asked to give some final thoughts, O'Neal looked at actress/director/producer Sharon Stone, who was sitting in the front row to promote her new TNT show, Agent X, and said, "Sharon, will you marry me!?"
She left without answering the question, so their future together remains unclear.
In it's all-hands-on-deck UpFront, Turner unveiled new directions and new products for its portfolio, including Adult Swim, Boomerang, Cartoon Network, CNN, HLN, TBS, TNT, truTV and Turner Sports.
“We’re doing a proactive makeover of these two networks,” Kevin Reilly, president for TNT/TBS and CCO for Turner Entertainment, said to the crowd, “We’re going to double the number of original series on TNT and TBS over the next three years. We’ll sharpen the point of view to be even more adventurous in our programming.
“We’ll also change the way that we market our networks — blurring the lines between entertainment and advertising, which will present some very interesting opportunities for you,” he said.
Among those in The Theater: Jennifer Beals (Proof), Edward Burns (Public Morals), Conan O'Brien (Conan), Jason Jones and Samantha Bee (The Detour), Sean Bean (Legends), Taye Diggs and Kathleen Robertson (Murder in the First), Eric Dane and Rhona Mitra (The Last Ship), Noah Wyle and Rebecca Romijn (The Librarians), Seth Green (Robot Chicken), Anderson Cooper (Anderson Cooper 360) and Michael Carbonaro (The Carbonaro Effect).
Among the new shows on-tap: Will, a series about a young William Shakespeare "told in raucous style."
“As we expand our portfolio, you should expect some very daring shows, some of which will not appeal to all of our current viewers, but will be a lightning rod to attract new viewers," said Reilly. “By this time next year, our presentation and portfolio will look dramatically different.”
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