Several years and five Emmy Awards ago, TNT’s “Inside the NBA” secured the title of the best studio show in the history of sports television. The effortless chemistry between Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith is the envy of every producer in the business, and Ernie Johnson is an expert traffic cop who can trade quips when the moment demands it. Shaquille O’Neal, charming when engaged but too often an inert mumbler, hasn’t damaged its appeal.
For years ESPN/ABC has been mixing and matching ingredients on its NBA studio programming while trying to concoct a similar recipe. The results have been uneven through the various tweaks to the cast, though they are on to something auspicious this year with Sage Steele, Bill Simmons, Jalen Rose, and Doug Collins.