I went behind the scenes of this fast-paced and entertaining show on Nov. 22, as they had their Thanksgiving special. Before I went on set in Washington, I met with Assistant Director Bonnie Berko. In the background, however, were Kornheiser and Wilbon, discussing the recent Michael Richards incident just like they would if the cameras were in front of them.
“They could do the show in their sleep,” said Remote Producer Frankie Nation.
Once on the set, I saw the usually-clean desk where the two sit, now filled with luscious Thanksgiving dishes. At about 4 p.m., Kornheiser walked in, decked out in pilgrim regalia, fitting for the occasion. Wilbon followed him, and the cameras started rolling shortly thereafter.
The first segment they shot was “Five Good Minutes,” where they interview someone —a writer or an athlete —about a recent sports topic.
“We obtain guests based on the most relevant news of the day,” Nation said. “So we try and book guests on the day of the show, and then it’s just a race against the clock to try and get what we can.”
Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe was last Wednesday’s guest and talked with Kornheiser and Wilbon in-studio about the upcoming game between the Bears and the Patriots.
Many notable athletes have been interviewed and are favorites of the hosts.
“Tiki Barber and Michael Strahan have been the best in terms of active athletes,” Kornheiser said. “We like using writers, but we’ve been very lucky getting guys like Gary Williams, Jim Calhoun, and Steve Spurrier.”
After a few minutes of preparation, the crew shot the “Headlines” segment, which reviews the most important stories of the day. This part is the actual first portion of the show, and each headline starts with a lead-in to the story before the two co-hosts debate the topic.
Next came the part usually reserved for a debate-induced game, which airs just after “Five Good Minutes.” There are a variety of featured segments at this part of the show, including “Mail Time,” “Toss Up,” and “Odds Makers.”
Even though some of these segments are flashy and colorful, Wilbon’s favorite is “Toss Up,” because it reveals the core of the show’s structure.
“That’s the essence of the show,” he said. “Pick a side and defend your point. All of our segments are a version of ‘Toss Up,’ where you need to choose a side and argue it. We all do it when we are talking about sports.”
On Thanksgiving Eve, they instead decided to present the “Turkeys of the Year.” The candidates included biker Floyd Landis, Winter Olympic gold medal-less skier Bode Miller, to a guy who head-butted his horse before a race.
In the following segment, the hosts sent out a “Happy Birthday,” a “Happy Anniversary” and a “Happy Trails.” Then came Tony Reali, or “Stat Boy,” who points Kornheiser’ and Wilbon’s factual errors over the last half-hour.
Although he hosts of “Around the Horn,” a similar debate show that comes on just prior to PTI, Reali does not mind the additional work.
“This is my perfect day,” he said. “It’s a long day, but it’s a nice way to split it between these two shows.”
Recently, a final segment was added during the 6 p.m. “SportsCenter,” following PTI. Kornheiser and Wilbon discuss one more topic at-length the “Big Finish,” a one-minute piece with second-tier headlines that the two go through at a rapid pace.
Every story featured on the show, whether it is in “Headlines” or in the “Big Finish,” has some process of selection. Although the majority of the headlines deal with sports, some other news-making stories are thrown in as well.
“We have a meeting in the morning where everyone presents their possible topics for the day’s show,” Berko said. The topics range from sports stories to current events to celebrity nonsense.”
The show went off with a hitch; one segment needed to be re-shot and taping took no more than one hour.
Both co-hosts have taken on additional duties outside of PTI. Wilbon continues to be a regular columnist for The Washington Post and a guest on local sports news spots. This season, Kornheiser took a leave of absence from the Post and became an analyst on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football,” alongside Mike Tirico and Joe Theisman. Because of that, PTI shoot its Monday shows during the football season at the site of that night’s upcoming contest.
“Monday Night Football is harder than I thought, it’s harder to say something,” Kornheiser said. “Balancing that and PTI has not been hard to do. I love doing PTI, and I didn’t want to give that up. It hasn’t felt oppressive, but I’ll be glad when (football season) is over.”
The chemistry Kornheiser and Wilbon share is exuded not only on PTI, but has been apparent for many years through their days at The Washington Post.
“We’ve worked together, we’ve agreed, we’ve disagreed, we know and respect each other’s work and like each other,” Wilbon said. “Just because I don’t agree with you doesn’t mean I don’t respect you or your work.”
For fans needing their daily fix of the latest sports news or the occasional pop culture happenings, “Pardon the Interruption” is a gabfest that is fun-to-watch, must-see TV. It’s not too bad watching it in the studio, either.