The Washington Post

TNT drops irreverent basketball TV show

- BY BEN STRAUSS ben.strauss@washpost.com

“The Starters,” an irreverent daily show on NBA TV, will not be renewed for next basketball season, according to a person with knowledge of the decision. The show, which is hosted by Tas Melas, Leigh Ellis, Trey Kerby and Phil Elder (profession­ally known as J.E. Skeets), debuted on NBA TV in 2013 and celebrated its 1,000th episode last year.

The 30-minute program, which has aired weeknights at 6 p.m. Eastern, is known for its humor and creativity. The show, for example, popularize­d the term “wedgie” for when a basketball gets stuck between the backboard and the rim. Shaquille O’Neal appeared on the show and gave Elder a wedgie. During last year’s summer league, the four hosts dressed as Las Vegas showgirls for an episode.

Before arriving at NBA TV, the quartet — Melas and Elder are Canadian; Ellis is Australian; Kirby is American — built an audience through their similarly irreverent podcast. The show, then called “The Basketball Jones,” offered a forum for fans to nerd out on basketball with fellow junkies and get a heavy dose of whimsy, too. The podcast was originally recorded out of producer Jason Doyle’s apartment, earning a cult following before becoming part of the Grantland podcast network.

The contracts of the four hosts, as well as producers Doyle and Matt Osten, run through this summer, though it is unclear whether the hosts will continue to appear on NBA TV after the NBA Finals conclude. Where the hosts and their program will go and exactly what they will do next is not known, though the quartet have had initial discussion­s with other media companies.

“The guys thank Turner for their six years,” said a statement from Creative Artists Agency, which represents the hosts. “They’re looking forward to their next steps, and we’ve had conversati­ons with a number of interested parties.”

“Many factors influence these decisions, and we wish them all the best as they continue to further evolve their brand,” a Turner Sports spokesman said.

One person with knowledge of the negotiatio­ns believed the move is part of a larger cost-cutting directive from AT&T, which completed its purchase of Time Warner last year. Earlier this year, longtime head of Turner Sports David Levy left the company. CNN president Jeff Zucker was named head of news and sports for WarnerMedi­a. NBA TV is owned by the league and operated by Turner.

A Turner source said the decision was made by Turner and NBA executives without the input of AT&T higher-ups.

The show averaged 38,000 viewers this year, according to Nielsen data.

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