"Pardon the interruption, but I'm Mike Wilbon. Tony, we're on TV Tropes now! Does that make us notable?" "I'm Tony Kornheiser. Do you think they'll put me under Magnificent Bastard?"
The last half-hour of the ESPN network's afternoon block of "journalists yell about sports" shows (along with Numbers Never* Lie, Dan LeBatard is Highly Questionable, SportsNation, and Around The Horn). The show debuted in October 2001 and is still ongoing. Hosted by former Washington Post sportswriter Tony Kornheiser and ESPN.com sportswriter Michael Wilbon (also formerly of the Post), and featuring ATH host Tony Reali as the show's moderator/"Stat Boy", the show has the duo discuss a variety of daily sports topics, which are generally timed to keep the show moving.The show originally followed a set format of segments.
The first segment, Headlines, is dedicated to current sports headlines.
The second is either another Headlines segment or an interview with an athlete, coach, or sportscaster. The interview is dubbed "Five Good Minutes", although the actual time can vary.
During the NFL season, former player and current commentator Ron "Jaws" Jaworski is a staple interview on Thursday episodes, previewing the upcoming week in football.
The third segment is a game-themed period which can go in any number of directions. There are many of these, but the most frequently used are:
Role Play - Korneheiser and Wilbon take turns answering questions as if they were sports figures, holding up faces on signposts.
Over/Under - Reali gives a possible stat for an upcoming event, and Kornheiser and Wilbon guess that the actual result will be over or under the predicted stat.
Odds Makers - Reali gives a "What are the chances [something sports-related]?", and Kornheiser and Wilbon give the odds of it happening.
Toss-Up - The producer gives a "what's more likely to happen?" question with two answers, and Kornheiser and Wilbon make their picks.
What's the Word? - Reali will ask Kornheiser and Wilbon to come up with a single word that describes a recent sports-related event.
Happy Time - Kornheiser gives a Happy Birthday to a sports figure or celebrity, a Happy Anniversary to something memorable, and a Happy Trails to something that's coming to an end. These can also be for bad things; major screw-ups are generally announced as "Not-so-Happy Anniversary" and deaths are announced as "A melancholy Happy Trails to..."
Errors - Reali corrects anything that was goofed, and things that happened but weren't talked about.
The Big Finish - A 5- to 7-question rapid-fire discussion crammed into the last half-minute to minute of the show.
In early 2014, the format was changed to three segments, with the first now a longer segment (about 12 minutes, compared to 8 before the change) dedicated to headlines, the second being Five Good Minutes or any of the game segments, and the final being Happy Time, Errors, and The Big Finish. Tony Reali left the show on September 5th, 2014, due to a new job in New York City with Good Morning America, although the satellite format of Around the Horn will allow him to continue his hosting duties for that show.
Reali got his start on this show before replacing Max Kellerman as host of Around the Horn. Also within the show, most of the more-recently-introduced games tend to involve him; the reason why Toss-Up involves "the producer over the loudspeaker" instead of Reali is that it, Mail Time, and Role Play are the only regular games from the early days of the show to remain so now.
April Fools' Day: Every April 1st (if it's a weekday), the duo will open the show with some breaking news that is completely made-up. Since there's no indicationnote Other than following Around The Horn, which wears the April foolery on its sleeve, and the lack of said breaking news on the ESPN news ticker that this is a joke (both hosts discuss it earnestly as if true), a viewer can be forgiven for being had by the story until the topic bell goes off, causing them to break out the party favors and yell "April Fools!"
Author Appeal: Wilbon tends to favor teams from Chicago, where he is from, and Kornheiser favors teams from Washington (where he lives) or New York (where he's from). Also, since they're both basketball writers, they prefer basketball over other sports.
Bald of Awesome: Kornheiser tends to promote the greatness of being bald during the shows, and likes to introduce bald guests as "a fellow member of the Bald Brotherhood." Wilbon shaves his head, but doesn't revel in that as much as Kornheiser does. Ironically, Kornheiser isn't completely bald; he has a wisp of a comb-over that Wilbon occasionally needles him about.
This was used as a gag in the promos before the show premiered:
Tony: We're fat, we're bald... we're old. Mike: No, you're bald. I'm shaved. And shaved is a lot better.
Berserk Button: Anybody but Wilbon criticizing Kornheiser will make him mad.
Breakout Character: Tony Reali started on the show as a fresh-faced 22-year-old statistician intern who just corrected the factual errors for the hosts at the close of the show; he eventually got popular enough with his screen presence that he took over as host of Around The Horn when Max Kellerman left, and got so popular there that ABC offered him a daily correspondent job for their flagship morning show, Good Morning America, which ended Reali's tenure on PTI after 13 years.
The Bus Came Back: Guest host Jason Whitlock, former columnist for the Kansas City Star. The outspoken writer was fired from ESPN years ago for inflammatory comments made towards ESPN colleague Scoop Jackson, but has come back under the ESPN umbrella once more and into the PTI guest-host slot.
Dan: Pardon the interruption, but I'm Dan LeBatard. Tony, an IBM computer was one of the three contestants on Jeopardy last night. What could be more annoying than a computer on a TV show? Tony: Hello, Dan.
The show always opens with Wilbon (or whoever's subbing for him) saying "Pardon the interruption, but I'm [name]". The Big Finish closes with:
*buzzer as the clock runs out* Tony: We're out of time, we'll try to do better the next time. I'm Tony Kornheiser. Mike: And I'm Mike Wilbon. Same time tomorrow, knuckleheads. Make sure to check out our podcast on iTunes. Let's go back to Bristol. Tony: Good night, Canada.
"BALL NIGHT!" on a day with a slate of pro or college hoops.
"Let's go back to Bristol" and "Good night, Canada" are both something of The Artifact from when the last segment of the show aired as part of SportsCenter, hence why Wilbon is throwing it back to Bristol; see Credits Gag and Executive Meddling below.
Couch Gag: The show will always open with a bit of back and forth in the style that the page quote parodies.
Credits Gag: In Canada, ESPN-owned sports network TSN also airs the show, but when the last portion of PTI was delayed to the SportsCenter that follows the show, TSN didn't air that part. After a snarky comment from Reali about Canadians, Kornheiser now closes the portion that kicks off SportsCenter in the U.S. (which would be the cut-off point for Canadian viewers) by waving a tiny Canadian flag and saying "Good night, Canada!"
Crossover: Several panelists from Around the Horn have been involved with the show, usually as Guest Hosts.
After J.A. Adande won what Reali called "the worst Odds Makers ever," Reali said "Let's go to the lounge!" Adande then said he wanted this win to be added to his ATH win count.
A SportsNation Halloween episode involved SportsNation's set being dressed up to look like the PTI set. Kornheiser appeared on the show to demand that the SportsNation's hosts "stop stealing [their] stuff!"
ATH panelist Pablo Torre filled in for Reali in August 2014 while Reali was on leave with his wife and newborn daughter.
Dirty Old Man: The show usually opens with Wilbon mentioning an interesting news story (sometimes non-sports related) and asks Kornheiser a relative question about it tying into his personal life ("Have YOU ever..."), usually resulting in Kornheiser giving an easy, innuendo-filled answer.
Droste Image: An unintentional example happens when the show cuts to Reali's errors rundown. The monitor at Reali's desk shows the camera feed, and that screen has a smaller version of the camera feed, and so on and so on.
Fan Disservice: LeBatard. Chest hair. 'nuff said. Lampshaded by the reaction of whoever's hosting with LeBatard.
Follow the Leader: You see those other shows up in the intro? All of them exist because of the success of PTI. The format has also been used in segments of local and regional sports shows around the U.S., as well as parodies, like The Onion's Get Out Of My Face.
Fourth Wall Mail Slot: Used in the "Mail Time" segment; the letters originally came from the viewers, but are now made by the producers.
Heterosexual Life-Partners: Kornheiser and Wilbon's chemistry and years of running the show have proved them one of ESPN's few examples of this trope. It's hard to think of one of them without the other. Listening to Kornheiser's radio show, it sometimes seems likely that Wilbon is Kornheiser's only friend.
Large Ham: Both hosts, as well as most of the guest hosts, especially LeBatard.
Last Name Basis: Both Tonys always refer to Mike Wilbon by his surname. Justified in that most ESPN personalities named Mike don't use their first name in order to avoid confusion amongst the company (the radio hosts of Mike & Mike in the Morning go by their surnames; Mike Ditka goes by 'Coach', etc). Tony Reali is likewise on a last-name basis (even his Around The Horn panelists will address him as such sometimes), since PTI already stars a Tony.
Likes Older Women: One of the show's running gags is Kornheiser's outspoken attraction to older women; since he's in his 60s, this turns out to be women like Bea Arthur and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Long Runner: Has been airing daily for over a dozen years and remains as popular as ever. Averted Long-Runner Cast Turnover, as Tony, Wilbon, and Reali have been there from its inception until 9/5/14, which was Reali's last show as the statistician/moderator, as he moves to NYC for his regular gig on Good Morning America, although he will still host Around The Horn from a new set.
Loophole Abuse: Kornheiser will often duck the one-word rule for "What's the Word" by using multiple words and claiming that they're connected by hyphens, therefore, they only count as one word.
One Steve Limit: Played with Tony Kornheiser and Tony Reali; Reali is usually referred to by his last name instead.
Orphaned Punchline: A running gag used for a while in 2010 and infrequently thereafter. When the show comes back from its final commercial break for the "Happy Time" segment, it comes back to Kornheiser in the midst of an odd or innuendous story to Wilbon, "unaware" that they're live until Reali yells from off-camera that they're on.
Kornheiser: So I've only dated one Canadian—Margot Kidder. Let me tell ya, I Superman'd — oh, we're on, how bout that?
Podcast: The show offers a podcast version, which Wilbon always mentions as part of the show's outro.
Road Trip Episode: During Kornheiser's brief tenure as a color commentator for Monday Night Football, PTI would go on the road on Mondays and broadcast from the stadium where Tony was working the show that night.
Rimshot: All the games that involve Reali have one when he's introduced.
LeBatard has his own "running joke" that he would exclaim "BAM!" at the start of each episode. When Kornheiser was suspended (again) for saying something stupid on his radio show, the audience was treated to a week of variations on:
Wilbon: Pardon the Interuption, I'm Michael Wilbon, and when I made my lunch today, I ate a sandwich with some LeBatard: HAM!
Salt and Pepper: Kornheiser is white and Wilbon black, but both subvert the trope by being rather knowledgeable (or as the show's detractors believe, not so much) about most of the topics they discuss. Also subverted in that Wilbon is more uptight and rolls his eyes at things like Tony's frequent pop culture references, love of silly Internet videos, or the penguin dance.
Spin-Off: Kornheiser and Wilbon got their TV start on Redskins Report, a Washington, D.C. show hosted by legendary sportscaster George Michael. Later Dick Schaap tapped them for ESPN's Sunday morning show Sports Reporters before getting their own show.
Kornheiser inspired a short-lived CBS sitcom, Listen Up, which featured a version of the show. The Wilbon expy, played by Malcolm Jamal Warner, instead of being bald/shaved, instead sported a full head of dreadlocks.
Stealth Pun: Pardon them interrupting their sponsors, as ESPN does a quick cut back to their studio after the first commercial of every break.
Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Bald, black, opinionated Northwestern graduate Kevin Blackistone sometimes fills in for bald, black, opinionated Northwestern graduate Michael Wilbon.
Take a Third Option: Sometimes, during Over/Under segments, Wilbon will instead choose "push", much to the annoyance of Kornheiser and Reali. The game now usually features a spread with a .5 attached to make a "push" impossible. Wilbon did manage to get in one last "push" during Odds Makers on Reali's last show.
Thanksgiving Episode: Every year on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, PTI will dedicate a segment to the "Turkeys of the Year", a five-minute tribute of the funniest bloopers and What the Hell, Hero? moments of the year.
Title Drop: Twice, to open and close the show. The show opens with Wilbon dropping the full title (see the page quote). When the show closes after the Big Finish, Kornheiser holds a PTI logo sign over his face; after a Fade to Black, the show's logo is shown while an offscreen voice whispers "PTI."
Too Soon: invoked Actually a third-segment game, where Reali would bring up an early prediction of a transpiring sports story, and then asks the hosts in various voices: "Too Soon?" This hasn't been used in a long time and seems ready to join Fair Or Foul? on the way to being discontinued for good.
Uranus Is Showing: If Wilbon brings up an astronomy-related story in the show's opening, it is pretty much guaranteed to be a setup for Kornheiser to make one of these. Like the Penguin Dance, this does not amuse Wilbon in the least.
Verb This!: The third question for "Mail Time" begins with "Mail THIS!"