December 18, 2008
Ernie Johnson is hilarious. It may not come across that way all the time on "Inside the NBA," but when you sit down and talk to him, it's easy to see why he has become one of the most popular broadcasters on television. Johnson has a wicked sense of humor and doesn't take himself too seriously, which are both reasons why the show continues to have success.
Ball Don't Lie: TNT says that basketball's biggest night is on Thursday. How can basketball's biggest night only have two games?
Ernie Johnson: Well, sometimes it's three. (Laughs) Because it's exclusive, that's why it's the biggest. It may appear to be a misnomer ... but no, it's basketball's biggest night because it's the only night that has Charles and Kenny.
BDL: Do you think there is any part of "Inside the NBA" that could be better?
EJ: (Pauses) So, you're asking what would I change about the show?
EJ: Nothing. I really wouldn't. I'm older than these other guys, so I grew up watching Carson, they're totally different shows, but one of the great things I liked about Johnny Carson when I was growing up was the fact that while he was funny, he was really great when some of his stuff wasn't funny, or the jokes didn't go over, and he played it off so well, he wasn't afraid to [say], "We'll take a shot at this and see what happens."
And I think that's kind of [the same attitude] with Tim Kiely the [Inside] producer and all of us. It's like, "Yeah, we'll try something." And if it's not funny, fine, but we're not just gonna sit there and do a cookie-cutter show, that you know what's coming if you watch it once, you say, "I know what's gonna happen next Thursday, this is the way they do things." You never know ...
BDL: You never know what's going to happen around here.
EJ: No, and that's the beauty of the show. A lot of times even when something doesn't work it's like, "That was bad, that didn't work at all," but it was funny because we didn't play it off seriously like, "Oh, well that wasn't funny, we're sorry. Is it funny that we weren't funny ... yeah. Not everything has to be hit out of the park; it's just great sometimes the guys react.
BDL: Does anything surprise you anymore?
EJ: You could have all the production meetings you want. You couldn't draw anything up that. You couldn't say, "OK, in the second half time we need Kenny to say something so off-the-wall that he just backpedals like crazy and you guys just kill him for it" ... you can't, and that's what carries the show. That's what the guy at the water cooler is talking about the next day: "Man, did you hear Kenny Smith talking about how Terrell Owens doesn't need to wear anything [to look good] ... that's the beauty of the show. It's spontaneous and fun. It's like watching a game at home.
BDL: Is there one particular moment from all the Inside shows over the years that stands out to you?
EJ: Ohh ... (Pauses) It's hard. I guess the fallback answer is "The Champion's Club."
BDL: Ha! When you guys made a Mike Penberthy reference.
EJ: (Laughs) Yeah, we're all coming out yelling names. "Zan Tabak wants to talk to you Charles, get in here! ... Mike Penberthy!" That was such a great team effort by everybody involved, from our studio crew, to our research guys, because we were all kind of coming up with names, and we compiled the list. So, when we would run back into the Champion's Club, we would run back inside and look at the list and say, "Ahh, yeah, let's throw that one in!" ... And again, that was unrehearsed.
BDL: That's why the show is what it is.
EJ: Yeah, here's what we want to do: Turn the [set] into a nightclub. We'll walk in there and we don't know what's gonna happen. We don't know what's gonna happen when Kenny walks Charles down the hall to start the gag. We don't know if Charles is going to buy into or not, but we're gonna take a shot.
BDL: When Charles runs for governor, are you going to be on his staff?
EJ: (Smiles) I guess I would have to move to Alabama, so this is purely hypothetical, but I think the easiest job and the busiest - it wouldn't probably wouldn't be that easy - I'd like to be his press secretary.
BDL: You're serious?
EJ: Every day you'd stand up in front of all these reporters in Alabama and all these mics, and say: "Look, what the Governor really meant when he said that guy oughtta be shot was ... it was just a figure of speech ... next question."
BDL: Nobody would know Charles better than you would.
EJ: (Smiles) Exactly. Whoever has that job [will be saying] ... "What he really meant ..." It is tough to conjure up the images of him and what he might say, because of the stuff he says out here. Is he totally going to change if he's governor, I don't [know]. Even if he changes 95 percent, that other 5 percent that remains Charles will be enough to set Alabama on its ear, when he lets something out. And he goes "Oops, did I really say that?" It will be hilarious to watch from a state away.
BDL: Or Press Secretary Johnson will have to calm the flames.
EJ: Exactly ... there's gonna be a lot of turnover in that job. (Laughs) He's not gonna just settle on one guy to get that done. That will be something to see if that actually happens, I don't know. I know he talks about it.
BDL: He sounds serious about running.
EJ: I know, I know ... He'll get that look, and you say maybe he's serious about this, or maybe it's just like when he talked about coming back to play some more
BDL: At some point, though, the show is going to end. Charles might be running for governor, Kenny might be running a team, what are you going to do? Have you even thought about that?
EJ: I don't give it any thought at all to be totally honest with you. I really don't, because it's been such a fun ride doing this show ... I've been at Turner for almost 20 years, and you see so many shows that don't have the longevity that this one even does ... You know at some point it won't be there, but you just don't dwell on it.
BDL: Now you know that you'll might have a job in Alabama, too ...
EJ: Maybe he'll just take us with him. When he does a Gubernatorial press conference it will be the three of us.
BDL: You'll be the press secretary and Kenny will be the lieutenant governor.
EJ: Yeah, it would be entertaining.