The show goes on lo­ca­tion at the na­tion’s most fa­mous black univer­sity. The pres­sure is on.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY CLIN­TON YATES clin­ton.yates@wash­post.com

At 9 a.m on a rainy Fri­day morn­ing, Jemele Hill and Michael Smith are fi­nal­iz­ing their show run­down. They’ve set up camp in the lounge at the Black­burn Cen­ter on the cam­pus of Howard Univer­sity for a live tap­ing of “His& Hers,” their talk show on ESPN. African Amer­i­can art­work from the 1960s and ’70s hangs in the room. Smith drinks or­ange juice and Hill eats yogurt while pro­duc­ers try to sort out which of the school’s alums make the most sense to list on the show.

The only all-black sports talk tele­vi­sion show in Amer­ica is at the coun­try’s most fa­mous black univer­sity, and the pres­sure is on.

“This ain’t the place to make mis­takes,” Smith says af­ter notic­ing a run­down er­ror. “Not about that,” Hill replies, laugh­ing. Get­ting the found­ing date of the school wrong, even though it was just a pro­ducer’s typo, would have been a ma­jor botch.

The show is un­apolo­get­i­cally black, with­out be­ing car­toon­ish. In the pro­duc­tion meet­ing, the crew is talk­ing about “Em­pire”; no­body can fig­ure out the show’s plot line. At one point, Mike and Jemele sing “I just want to take it nice and slow” in an un­in­ten­tional cho­rus when some­one asks them if “Nice and Slow” is the ti­tle of Usher’s 1997 break­out jam.

“Break­ing news: We’re the only all­black cast on na­tional tele­vi­sion as far as I know, def­i­nitely in the sports space. Maybe in na­tional tele­vi­sion pe­riod, a black man and a black woman,” Smith ex­plains. “While that’s not some­thing that is in the open­ing cred­its, while that’s not some­thing thatwe walk around like, ‘Hey, did you know we’re black peo­ple!’ but it’s cer­tainly you know, we are who we are.

“We don’t dare shy away from that or apol­o­gize for that, from a con­tent stand­point, from a con­ver­sa­tion stand­point, from a per­spec­tive stand­point, from a struc­ture stand­point.

“We are who we are, and that’s it,” Smith con­tin­ued. “We’re not try­ing to ac­com­mo­date any­body else. We’re not try­ing to iso­late any­body, but we’re also not try­ing to ac­com­mo­date.”

Black­ness in Amer­ica means more than just keep­ing time and ath­letic ac­com­plish­ments. “His& Hers” re­flects that largesse of iden­tity, of­ten over­looked for black tele­vi­sion hosts. And although nei­ther went to his­tor­i­cally black col­leges, they nonethe­less re­spect the im­por­tance of the Howard home­com­ing stage.

“Ob­vi­ously any­body that’s a part of the black com­mu­nity, you’re aware of the legacy, the history and how much HBCUs have con­trib­uted to just our ad­vance­ment as a peo­ple,” Hill said Fri­day. “In the sense thatwe— there’s enough faith in us as a show, that ESPN’s own com­mit­ment to come here — we don’t nec­es­sar­ily have to ex­plain why we’re here.

“It was hon­estly their idea. That showed a com­mit­ment and faith on their part. And I think for the cam­pus, peo­ple that go here, it does do some­thing to the col­lec­tive es­teem of the in­sti­tu­tion. Like, ‘Some­body like ESPN is check­ing for us in this way.’ ”

More per­son­ally, both were glad to fi­nally make it to one of the most im­por­tant dates on the black-Amer­i­can so­cial cal­en­dar.

“When I was in col­lege, it was two events that peo­ple talked about non­stop and I never got to go to ei­ther of them. One of them was Freaknik; the other one was Howard’s home­com­ing,” Hill, a Detroit na­tive and Michigan State grad­u­ate, said with a laugh. “Like, allmy friends, they would car­a­van and come here, to go from East Lans­ing to D.C. I mean, that’s a 10-hour drive. That’s a trip. That’s how much the word was out that, yo, this place, this is the place to be.”

“His& Hers” stands out from the con­ven­tional for­mat of talk­ing heads scream­ing at each other not only be­cause of the race and gen­der of its hosts, but also be­cause of an on-air chem­istry that re­sults from gen­uine friend­ship.

Ul­ti­mately, though, there is a re­spon­si­bil­ity that comes along with be­ing a black man and black woman on tele­vi­sion ev­ery day. In 2015, it’s still a unique po­si­tion.

But, com­ing up on their one-year an­niver­sary, Hill and Smith know what they’re do­ing.

“The devil’s al­ways in the de­tails for us. So, when some­thing doesn’t go off right, we’re like, ‘Come on, man.’ That’s not, like, us say­ing some­thing wrong. TV stuff hap­pens, but avoid­able mis­takes,” Smith said af­ter the show Fri­day. “Be­cause we know what time it is. We’re not af­forded those types of op­por­tu­ni­ties to keep mak­ing mis­takes. We’re en­joy­ing our­selves.”

And­com­ing to Howard, in a tan­gen­tial way, val­i­dated the whole show.

“I think es­pe­cially now, where it seems like with all the things go­ing on in the world, es­pe­cially the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment, there are times I think, as a black per­son, you just feel the weight of the world,” Hill said. “So it’s kind of nice to be in an en­vi­ron­ment that’s kind of apo­lit­i­cal.

“It’s just about hav­ing a good time, rec­og­niz­ing the achieve­ments of this univer­sity and just col­lec­tively as a com­mu­nity com­ing to­gether.”

JOHN MCDON­NELL/THE WASHINGTON POST

From left, Michael Smith and JemeleHill talk to ex-Howard quar­ter­back Jay­Walker while film­ing in D.C. onWed­nes­day.

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