Bill Simmons brings minor-league quality to HBO talk show 'Any Given Wednesday'

hbo bill simmons affleck

Bill Simmons ended his gilded run at ESPN on bad terms, and the war of words has continued since he left.

That acrimony surely raised the profile of -- and helped with the promotion for -- his multi-pronged deal with HBO, which the sports personality kicked off with "Any Given Wednesday," a play on the well-worn adage about an underdog being able to win on "any given" day.

Simmons actually isn't much of an underdog -- he capitalized handsomely on his success at ESPN, where he also launched the website Grantland -- but he did embrace the role of David to the sports behemoth's Goliath. He attributed his exit to his harsh commentary about NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (for its part, ESPN chief John Skipper refuted that, citing Simmons' "repeated lack of respect" for ESPN and its employees).

The weekly half-hour show that premiered Wednesday was a relatively unimpressive affair, despite being front-loaded with top-notch guests. After Simmons delivered an extended ode to LeBron James for his latest NBA championship, Simmons brought out analyst Charles Barkley to debate whether the Cleveland star ranked among the best three basketball players ever, or merely (as Barkley suggested) among the top 10.

After that, Simmons interviewed Ben Affleck, but mostly let the Boston native rant for what seemed like an interminable period about how unfair the NFL was in suspending New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

RELATED: Bill Simmons' latest project: Launching HBO show 'Any Given Wednesday' in June

The talk was breezy and amiable enough, albeit in a better-suited-to-a-podcast manner. Yet Simmons' various essays felt a bit too glib, including one mocking Golden State star Stephen Curry's TV commercials. The same criticism applied to a closing segment in which Simmons, among other things, took a roundabout shot at ESPN by lauding the brilliance of its "30 for 30" documentary, "O.J.: Made in America."

At times, Simmons and his guests seemed almost too loose, which might explain why the host referred to Golden State's Klay Thompson as having an "outer body experience" and bid Affleck farewell by calling him Superman.

While Affleck played 1950s Superman star George Reeves in 2006's "Hollywoodland," he most recently played Batman in this year's film "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice." But hey -- close enough.

In a recent column, the New York Times' Jim Rutenberg compared Simmons to Bill Maher, another outspoken personality who wound up being chased from ABC due to controversy, only to happily take refuge on HBO. Like CNN, HBO is a unit of Time Warner (TWX).

For now, though, that analogy seems forced. Simmons has demonstrated himself to be adept at viewing sports through a larger prism than what often passes for talk at his former network. But as TV hosts go, his debut on "Any Given Wednesday" came across as strictly a minor-league product.

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