Columnist

Pardon the Interruption: Why is Tony Kornheiser’s partner Michael Wilbon yelling so much? PTI began in 2001

 

Podolsky

Pardon the Interruption, but Michael Wilbon is wearing me out.

Wilbon, 61, is one of the co-hosts on PTI, now in its 19th year on ESPN. The other is Tony Kornheiser who still has his fastball at age 71.

The show features sports topics that are debated in segments of two minutes or less. The viewer can keep track of the topics on a rundown, shown on the right side of the screen. When the show originated in 2001 the rundown clock was one of the keys to the show. If the viewer doesn’t like the current topic he can see what’s coming up and will usually hang around to hear what Kornheiser and Wilbon have to say next.

It’s my feeling that one of the reasons for the show’s success all these years, is that the two hosts don’t talk over one other. Each gets to make his point and then move on. Kornheiser is even-keeled and mellow. Wilbon is neither.

Lately, however, Wilbon seems out of sorts. He constantly interrupts Tony, cuts him off and screams a rebuttal. His constant yelling sometimes appears to be an act. It feels fake, as if the producers have asked him to play off Tony as the bad cop, in a good cop/bad cop scenario.

For me, Kornheiser is the reason to tune in. His well-thought out opinions are usually smart, clever and to the point, without ever having to raise his voice. But when Kornheiser asks Wilbon a question or challenges an answer, Wilbon acts as if it was a personal affront and often begins yelling.

When something big happens in the sports world during the day, I always find myself tuning in to PTI to hear what Tony has to say. Not so much Wilbon, but maybe ESPN is just wearing him out by sending him on the road too much covering the NBA and other stuff. It seems like half the time Wilbon does his part of the show from a remote location. For me, the program is much more enjoyable when Frank Isola (who writes for The Athletic) pinch hits for Wilbon. The combo of Kornheiser and Isola is a good one and a pleasing watch for the viewer. They’re both great communicators and have very pertinent things to say. All without yelling at each other.

But then again, what do I know? In 2019, for the third time in its history (2009, 2016 and 2019), PTI won the Sports Emmy for best studio show.

***

Kornheiser and Wilbon

Like Tom Verducci who’s part of the baseball coverage on both Fox and MLB Network, Kornheiser is an alum of Long Island’s Newsday. Verducci made his mark nationally for Sports Illustrated for which he still writes profusely.

Long Island reared Kornheiser graduated from Binghamton State (NY) in 1970 and began with Newsday shortly thereafter. In 1976, he began a four-year tenure writing for the New York Times.

By 1979, Tony was DC bound where he began to pen stories for the Washington Post. In 1984, he was elevated to columnist for the prominent DC paper now owned by Jeff Bezos of Amazon. In 1992, he hosted a sports show on local Washington radio, snapping out clear and sharp opinions.

In time, he was on ESPN Radio nationally, bringing with him a bold and intetesting tone.  Before long, Kornheiser had a three year stint on ESPN’s Monday Night football.

What will likely define Kornheiser’s career is Pardon the Interruption which was launched in 2001. He and Wilbon started the show together and they’ve been a team since. Tony does not like to travel.

Meanwhile, Michael Wilbon grew up in Chicago and attended Northwestern University. Wilbon started at the Post in 1980 and like Kornheiser graduated to a columnist. He’s covered all four major pro sports, college sports and the Olympics.

Michael is a perennial attendee at the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals and the Final Four. After 30 years as a writer, reporter and columnist, Wilbon left the Washington Post in 2010 to go fulltime with ESPN.

Wilbon is an unabashed Cubs fan. In 2008 for that matter, he threw out a ceremonial first pitch at Wrigley Field and sang the national anthem.

Frank Isola is a longtime NBA reporter. He covered the Knicks and the league for many years for the New York Daily News until the newspaper cut back. Frank has a show on SiriusXM’s NBA Channel. Isola attended the University of Maryland.

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Rich Podolsky

Rich Podolsky, an established writer and reporter since the 70s, has been a staff writer for CBS Sports and won the prestigious Pennsylvania Newspaper Publishers' Keystone Award for writing excellence. He has written about the business of sports on television many times. His passion for music of the 60s and 70s fueled his desire to write about it. In “Don Kirshner: The Man with the Golden Ear,” and “Neil Sedaka, Rock ‘n’ Roll Survivor,” he tells the inside story of their success.

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Michael Green
2 months ago

I loved Kornheiser’s old radio show where his one rule was that he wouldn’t interview athletes. Every time I see Bob Ryan’s byline I still think of him as “the quintessential American sportswriter.”

Will Hawkins
Will Hawkins
2 months ago

Do you suppose that the two will “retire” from PTI as a pair? If not, who do you think will retire first? Does is seem like Isola is being groomed to take over if/when one retires?