Men’s Basketball: ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption to tape live show before NU-Binghampton game


Source: Randy Sager/ESPN Images

Michael Wilbon (Medill ’80) poses on the set of ESPN’s ‘Pardon The Interruption.’ The show will broadcast from Welsh-Ryan Arena on Friday.

Ella Brockway, Reporter

This March, Mike Foss, a senior director of remote production operations for ESPN, and his team began talks with the Northwestern athletic department about a possible collaboration between the department and the network’s “Pardon the Interruption” television show, based around NU’s Nov. 16 matchup against Binghamton.

Foss visited Welsh-Ryan Arena for the first time a month later, and although the arena was still under construction and seven months away from completion, he liked what he saw. So began a plan to bring one of ESPN’s most popular and recognizable shows to Evanston.

That plan will finally come to fruition Friday, as ESPN personalities Michael Wilbon (Medill ’80) — a former Daily staffer — and Tony Kornheiser — a 1970 Binghamton graduate — will tape an episode of Pardon the Interruption live from Welsh-Ryan Arena before calling the game between their alma maters on ESPNews.

“It’s such a special and unique relationship so when we saw both of their alma maters lining up to play men’s basketball at Northwestern, we really wanted to be there,” Foss told The Daily. “Corresponding with the opening of the new basketball arena, or I guess the refurbished basketball arena is the better way to put it, on a Friday evening, it’s just all the stars aligned, so to speak.”

Pardon the Interruption has been one of ESPN’s most-viewed daily studio programs since its beginning. Wilbon and Kornheiser both found fame as award-winning sports columnists for the Washington Post, and have hosted Pardon the Interruption since the show debuted on Oct. 2001.

In those 17 years, Pardon the Interruption has had its share of memorable moments: President Barack Obama recorded a special message for Kornheiser and Wilbon to commemorate the show’s tenth anniversary in 2011; Wilbon and Kornheiser have hosted road shows from national sporting events ranging from All-Star Games to the Super Bowl; and the show has won two Sports Emmys for Outstanding Studio Show — in 2009 and 2016.

But on Friday, they will do something they have never done.

“This is the first time we’ve ever traveled PTI by itself to a remote location,” Foss said. “We’ve always been co-located with other ESPN shows, so this is the first time PTI’s ever traveled independently to a site for a remote broadcast.”

Wilbon’s ties to his alma mater remain strong years after his graduation. The Chicago native was named to the University’s Board of Trustees in 2009, and a purple NU football helmet has a prominent and visible place on the show’s studio set.

Foss said the live taping offers a unique opportunity for exposure for the Pardon the Interruption and ESPN brands.

“We hope that being able to share that relationship (between Kornheiser and Wilbon) live in front of a packed arena and offer a little bit of insight and an ability to reach out and expand our sphere of influence or our fanbase through some direct interaction,” Foss said. “If we can do those two things … it’s going to be a fun environment for our public, our general viewing public.”

Friday will be the first-ever meeting between the Cats and the Bearcats. Binghamton, who joined Division I in 2001, finished last season with an 11-20 overall record and went 2-14 in the America East. The Bearcats are looking for their first winning season since the 2008-09 campaign.

NU enters the game with an undefeated record after wins over non-conference opponents in New Orleans and American to open the season.

“It’s going to be fun for both schools, really great exposure for our program,” coach Chris Collins said last week. “(It will) give us the chance to put the new arena and the new facility on a national stage which is really cool.”

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