These days the people who make television are expected, for a variety of promotional and fan base–stroking reasons, to engage in something resembling dialogue with their viewers. But Harmon was the first showrunner who seemed like he was creating a TV show in order to have that dialogue. Community was Harmon shooting off a flare gun to attract like-minded weirdos, articulating a worldview — institutions are bad, individuals are good, normalcy is an illusion, people who feel uncomfortable on the planet constitute a kind of sociocultural 99 percent, what we all have in common is our brokenness. Every character represented a facet of his personality; every episode was packed with callbacks and homages and fractalized sub-references aimed at people who, like him, had been warped and saved by pop culture at an early age. And he wanted us to know he was doing this. He didn’t just want the attention that came from blogging, tweeting, Reddit-ing, and annotating every episode for the A.V. Club — he seemed to need it, for reasons deeper than ego or vanity. He wanted to be out there in direct communication with the small but passionate group of people who liked his TV show because he wanted to connect.
I had no idea that ESPN was finally shutting down Page 2 today, but that’s at least in part because I can’t remember the last time I visited Page 2. As Jack Dickey explains over at Deadspin, there was a time when Page 2 was something of a proto-sports blog. I didn’t arrive in time for the Hunter Thompson/David Halberstam/Ralph Wiley era; I got there when it was fully, undeniably Bill Simmons and Friends.
Also, to echo something else Dickey said, there was a time when Page 2 seemed greater than the sum of its parts. I also went through a phase where I even anticipated Greggg Easterbrook columns (though that was just a phase). I used to visit ESPN.com just to skim the headlines, but I’d head to Page 2 in order to do some actual reading and be entertained.
As time wore on, so did the appeal of Page 2. We all grow up and find our entertainment elsewhere. The quality receded while other outlets (Deadspin included) emerged to take Page 2’s place. ESPN.com became a behemoth. The launch of Grantland — Bill Simmons’s own subsection of ESPN.com, complete with its own standalone URL — signaled that the end was nigh.
I visited Page 2 today and found that the site had been redesigned at some point since my last visit (I have no idea if that happened today, a week ago or months ago). There are some remembrances on the site, odes to a time when it was a destination unto itself. For what it’s worth, there was a time when that was true. A new page is launching to take its place on Monday, and I suspect it’ll just be another page within the greater ESPN.com empire. That’s perfectly understandable, and it’s also what Page 2 became a long time ago.
- “You can’t chip receivers other than jamming them at the line.”
- “The biggest advantage you have in football? Throwing the ball.”
- “What about Rodgers? He’s one more hit away from becoming an ongoing question mark, right? You could say he’s on double-secret concussion probation right now.”
- “That’s a little too sloppy for the superduperstar group. We have standards for the word ‘duper.'”
This never would have happened if Al Davis was still alive.”
- “Rivers would be 2011’s ‘What the eff is wrong with him?’ NFL star if not for Chris Johnson, who’s had at least 30 carries this season that made him look like Deena or Snooki starting to lunge at someone in a bar and immediately being tackled by three bouncers who carried her 10 feet backwards.”
- “What about consecutive healthy Vick weeks vs. consecutive married weeks for Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries?”
- “I will now strangle myself with Sarah’s pink no. 8 10 Breast Cancer Awareness Giants jersey.”
- “Porn name: Luke Warm.”
- “The ‘If’ is pulsating right now.”
- “My son? He’s built like a 1780s blacksmith.”
- “Aaron, Tom, Drew, Ben, Philip, Michael, Josh, Tony, Jay, Eli, Tim, Alex, Charlie, Andy, Mark, Ryan, Joe, Sam, Christian, Curtis, Kevin, Carson, John, Colt, Blaine, Cam … and six Matts. Sorry, that’s weird.”
- “I called them “Shooters” to signify that these guys are aspiring game managers … but you don’t know if they’re actually going to make it. You know, like Shooter in Hoosiers.”
- “One of my favorite songs of all time is “Nuthin’ But a G Thang.” Has anyone ever sat around trying to interpret what “It’s like this and like that and like this and uh” means? No! And that’s the chorus!”
- “You know what Sonny from A Bronx Tale would say.”
- “Redskins fans arguing about Beck and Grossman is like Van Halen fans arguing about Mitch Malloy and Gary Cherone.”
- “(Putting on my Robin Williams beard.) It’s not your fault, Bruce. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.”
- “My dad’s urine has more zip.”
It would have been downright foolish of me to judge Grantland after Bill Simmons’s new playground had been online for just one day. Sure, when your site is masterminded by Simmons, a subject of perpetual online and media fascination, and when it features a lineup of Big Name Writers, and when you promote it with a countdown clock on the homepage, you are perhaps building up outsized expectations relative to what a new outcropping of your site can legitimately provide. Still, judging it after one day would be silly. Now that it has been online for more than a day, we can render a complete judgment.
The resounding impression from the site’s first day was: That’s it? There just wasn’t a lot there on Wednesday, at least in the early going. The big stuff: Simmons had an introductory column and, later, a column about LeBron’s performance in the Finals. Chris Jones, who has apparently shifted from writing full-time for Esquire to covering the AL East for Grantland, wrote about baseball and himself. There was a dumb post about a dumb idea (a “reality TV fantasy draft,” which, honestly, this post and concept lowers this entire enterprise by at least one letter grade). Chuck Klosterman was doing his thing off the bench with the story of a basketball team that played three-on-five and won. No new podcasts. A blog that hasn’t gone up yet. No Eggers, no Gladwell, no Katie Bakes.
A day later, the site looks a little fuller, as you might expect. Klosterman wrote a great little thing about our modern interconnected, over-informed era (nothing hugely original, but still entertaining). Tom Bissell on L.A. Noire. Dave Eggers on Wrigley. This interesting look at Dirk in the 2011 playoffs.
The design seems to have irked a few people, but I like the relatively sparse and clean look. (Clearly [motions to the surrounding site].) There are still some kinks to be worked out. For instance, former New York Times NBA reporter Jonathan Abrams spoke to Donnie Walsh about parting ways with the Knicks; the post (a preview for the site’s sports blog) was initially found on the main Grantland page and has since disappeared, located only by Googling. It’s going to have to be easier to find everything on the site; people aren’t going to want to have to hunt down everything that’s not Simmons or Klosterman. (And, for what it’s worth, I’m very glad to see Klosterman has a new, regular place to write. He can be frustrating in long chunks — i.e. his books — but in brief bursts, he can be tons of fun.)
As for the introductory note: It reminds me why I liked Simmons in the first place. He’s simply honest about how he doesn’t know what this is beyond what it looks lik so far. He’s still self-satisfied and self-impressed (comparing your new site to a new late night comedy show is…not an apt comparison, but he clearly knows that). Yet he writes with an emotional honesty that I honestly think is his real, true self, not a character he portrays, not a persona he has adopted, because after all these years and in all of his interviews, podcasts and countless gigabytes of produced columns, he doesn’t come across as somebody capable of faking the things he says and does.
It’ll be very interesting to see how the site looks in a month, six months and a year. It’ll also be interesting to see what happens when ESPN does some accounting to figure out of all of this brand name talent is worth what is essentially a better Page 2. Like pretty much everybody else (even people who will complain about it ad nauseum), I’ll be going back frequently.
The Times Magazine spent a lot of words on Bill Simmons over the weekend, studying the man who is probably the most prominent sportswriter in the country as he readies the launch of Grantland. The new subsection of ESPN.com, which is being heavily promoted (see the image at left, taken from ESPN.com), launches on Wednesday at noon. Continue reading
Bill Simmons has been staffing up his sports and pop culture site for a while now, and ESPN just made it official. The site will be named Grantland, in honor of sportswriter Grantland Rice, for some reason, and it will launch in June. The Sports Dude will be the editor-of-chief of the site, posting his columns and podcasts and working with Dan Fierman, Lane Brown, Jay Caspian King, Malcolm Gladwell, Chuck Klosterman, Dave Eggers (!), Katie Baker and Patrice Evans.
That staff of writers and editors would be good enough to get attention for any site. The fact that it’s Simmons’s site, under the ESPN banner, ensures it’ll get a lot of eyeballs. I’m expecting the place to be interesting and worth visiting, even if Simmons’s supposedly “vaunted” pop cultural knowledge often seems like he’s actually only seen 12 movies in his life. His shtick, as I have written before on this site, can be extremely tiring. But there was a time when his voice was fresh and his material untouchable. I’m hoping that this chance to spearhead his own thing and oversee his own playpen will inspire him to regain some of his originality and display the voice that made so many of us become addicted to his writing.