Prestige TV has taken a page out of Sportswriting’s Media Playbook

By | May 26, 2023

I have good news for NBA players who hate answering questions from reporters after performing in front of millions of viewers. Actors also have to suffer through the questions. Last Sunday, when the Heat and Celtics met with the media after Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Jeremy Strong was asked about Season 4, Episode 9 of Succession on HBO’s official podcast. Jimmy Butler and Jayson Tatum would recognize the ritual. Strong did an interview after the game.

HBO is sending the cast and creative team to Succession– as it has done with The last of us and Barrywhose creator star Bill Hader appeared on Calls podcasts – to various outlets to “unpack” the latest plot twists. Strong may not be sitting in front of a backdrop of team logos or looking at a stat sheet. But tell me these questions don’t sound like what you hear in an NBA media room:

“How did you play that scene?”

“What did you think of how Logan died?”

“Talk about doing it this way and managing it from this point of view.”

“How does it feel to have Tom be so central to the show’s endgame despite not being a Roy kid?”

“Can you talk to me about your obsession with wine?”

In sports, the post-game interview is easy to make fun of. That’s why I do it! Today I want to point out that this strange, somewhat thankless ritual has become a staple of pop culture writing. When actors stand in for athletes, a funny thing happens: reporters ask the same questions and get the same answers.

For sportswriters, the postgame interview is an important, difficult part of their lives. Unlike celebrities in any other industry, players are forced to face the press: The NBA fined Butler $25,000 for skipping Sunday’s session. In recent years, television coverage has transformed the postgame from an exercise in notebook filling to performance art. Watch Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla’s brief Game 3 press conference following the loss to Miami.

The playoffs have produced some memorable soundbites, like Tatum “humbly” calls himself one of the best players in the worldDillon Brooks trolling LeBron Jamesand James contemplating retirement. But most of the player-reporter interactions are tiresomely mechanical. After stealing Game 1 in Boston, Butler was asked, “How critical is that?”

“Very critical,” he replied.

Pop culture journalism has followed in sports writing’s lead. Over the past 20 years, the episode summary—”the player,” as we knew it on the sports side—has supplanted the formal review. And just as NBA teams send players to the podium, networks fill post-episode content gaps by sending their actors to official podcasts (where reporters like Kara Swisher and Olivia Nuzzi ask the questions) or to outlets like Vulture, The Hollywood Reporter, The callerand New York Times. Minutes after Logan Roy’s televised death, the top of the Times‘ Home page featured a story headlined, “How Brian Cox Felt About the Big Episode 3 Twist in Succession.”

Players are drilled by public relations staff to keep their postgame responses positive and short—to avoid “tasting yourself,” as the wonderful baseball saying goes. In post-episode interviews, the actors sound pretty much the same: modest and evasive, aware that the substance of what they’re saying is less important than the fact that they’ve deserved to answer the question at all.

Of Succession cast members, Strong is a bit like the ball player who talks too much while everyone else in the locker room rolls their eyes. See this One from New York profile from 2021. After Sunday’s penultimate episode of the series, which had Kendall Roy paying tribute to her father, Strong was eager to delve into the character’s brain. (“Going into the finals, what’s on Kendall’s mind?”) But now even Strong sounds like a veteran presence in locker rooms. Succession Creator Jesse Armstrong’s writing, he said, was “brilliant.” Juliana Canfield, who plays Kendall’s assistant Jess, was also “brilliant”. I have to give credit to my coaches and teammates.

Moving the post-game interview from sports to pop culture is an interesting experiment. What sort of things would another set of journalists seek to find out? As it turns out, these are the same things sportswriters have been searching for for years.

One is a blob of color. What’s the atmosphere like in the dressing room, I mean, the writers’ room? After Logan Roy’s death, Swisher asked director Mark Mylod about the table where the actors read the script before filming it. Sounding like a coach not keen on revealing much, Mylod allowed it was “quite emotional.” Armstrong said the call Successionthe authors had whether death was “cathartic”. In these tantalizing adjectives, sportswriters will recognize glimpses of the backroom scenes they’ve been trying to report for years.

In postgame interviews, sportswriters like to ask coaches why they made certain decisions. Culture writers treat showrunners the same way: why kill Logan in episode 3 instead of episodes 9 or 10?

On HBO’s podcast, Armstrong was happy to explain. (Sportswriters would kill for a coach who talks about their process as much as a showrunner.) But when Swisher asked Cox what he meant by Logan dying off-screen, Cox replied, “What the writers decide, the writers decide.” The coach calls the plays and I run them.

Cox added that he is not watching Succession, rules out questions about how the finished episodes turned out. It sounded like Tatum, after his miserable fourth quarter in Game 2 against the Heat, explained that he needed to see the tape before commenting further.

After games, sportswriters are at their most searching when they’ve seen an athlete do something amazing. Reporters want to explain how the athlete wanted to greatness. Thus begins the questions: “Take me through your thoughts when …”

All of us sportswriters hope for a Rosebud-type response: “I happened to remember something Coach said during training camp” or “At that moment I thought of my late uncle.” But most of the time, writers find the player unable—or perhaps unwilling—to explain their art.

Actors are also reluctant to reveal the mysteries of their industry. After Shiv Roy (Sarah Snook) and Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen) had a fight at a party in episode 7, Swisher asked Macfadyen how he summoned the emotion to play the scene. What was your approach?

“You just do it,” Macfadyen said, sounding like a player hitting a game-winning 3 from the corner.

“You learn the lines very, very well, as best you can, and then you practice a bit,” Macfadyen continued. “Sarah and I just skated through. Then you get a little idea of ​​what it’s going to be like, and then you start shooting and it just reveals itself.” What did we learn from it?

In a podcast published Sunday, Swisher asked James Cromwell, who plays Logan’s brother, Ewan, about Logan’s funeral in episode 9. “First, tell me about the energy on set.”

Cromwell said he had trouble remembering his lines due to the effects of prolonged COVID. If this had been an NBA media room, you’d see writers looking up from their phones. A nugget of gold! A splash of color!

Then the shooting started, Cromwell continued, and he…remembered his lines after all. Here, the NBA writers would have taken a look back at Twitter. A nice detail, maybe a lead if they had nothing else.

no Succession the actor has used a post-episode interview to position himself for the future just as James did after Game 4 against the Nuggets. But the show has a large cast. The interviews provide a chance for a supporting cast to get some attention, to be declared the show’s “stealth MVP.”

What is striking about Succession interviews is that the interviewers almost always have luck with one particular type of question. It’s not a question about the actor. It’s about theirs character:

“Why was it so important for Ewan to speak at Logan’s funeral?”

“Is there a part of Karolina thinking about her own chances as a possible successor?”

“Roman is finally co-CEO. Do you think he likes the job?”

You can feel the actors relax. Now they can talk intimately about someone other than themselves, move from the real world to the Waystar boardroom and reveal a nugget or two about Succession while maintaining their own mystique. How critical is it to an actor’s post-game interview? Very critical.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *