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Series / Around the Horn

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"Four Troperiffic sportswriters right there! Today, lampshades will be hung, hilarity is likely to ensue, and who on the panel will be the first to fail biology, forever? Ten topics, but only one winner. Let's do it!"

Around the Horn is a sports discussion show on ESPN, which debuted in 2002. The premise is simple — four sportswriters with No Indoor Voice debate about current sport topics and are scored on their arguments. The moderator is Tony "Stat Boy" Reali (formerly Max Kellerman), who has ultimate power over the panelists' scores and the almighty mute button. Points are (in theory) awarded for good arguments, jokes and commentary, and taken away for contradictory or incomprehensible arguments (among other things), which can also earn a 10-second mute.

Formerly, right before the second commercial, the player with the lowest score is eliminated, then again before the next commercial, before the final two engage in a "showdown" to determine the day's winner, who receives a solo spot to rant about or praise whatever they feel like for 30 seconds. In 2015, the show changed its structure to match that of Pardon the Interruption, removing the third segment and now eliminating two panelists before the second commercial break. The show's intro was also changed from a format that the above page quote parodies to Reali simply announcing the panelists.

The usual rotation of panelists includes Woody Paige, Tim Cowlishaw, J.A. Adande, Bill Plashcke, Jackie MacMullen, Bob Ryan, Bomani Jones, Kevin Blackistone, Israel Guiterrez, Pablo Torre and Frank Isola, with occasional appearances by Michael Smith, Jemele Hill and Gene Wojciechowski, among others. Jay Mariotti was a regular panelist since the show's beginning, but he hasn't appeared since his August 2010 domestic violence arrest, and ESPN has made it clear they aren't really interested in bringing him back.

ATH is a part of the ESPN network's afternoon block of "journalists yell about sports" shows, with Highly Questionable and Pardon the Interruption. The audio of every episode is also available for listening on's podcast section.

Not to be confused with Round the Horne.

Around The Horn provides examples of:

  • Aesop Amnesia: After the Dallas Mavericks won the 2011 NBA Finals by defeating the Miami Heat, an ungodly amount of points was deducted from Bill Plaschke at the start of the show; he had declared the series over after the Heat won Game 1.note  A few days later, Plaschke won the Face Time and used it to address the people who e-mailed the show about his constant "It's Over" declarations, to which he said that he will fess up when he's wrong but he will continue to make proclamations when he sees fit because that's part of the fun of watching sports.
  • April Fools' Day:
    • Woody Paige swapped positions with Tony Reali in 2009.
    • In 2010, the show ran backwards. Once again, Woody Paige takes the "win".
    • In 2014, the show featured a lot of Shout Outs to '70s/'80s sitcoms. The opening sequence and the closing credits were set up like the beginning and ending of a sitcom from this era, the panelists wore outfits commonly seen on such and dropped several Catch Phrases from them, the music in the ad breaks was of the same styles, and laughs, oooohs, and boos were inserted as appropriate.
    • In 2019, Woody Paige hijacks the show again after chloroforming Reali and muting all the panelists (including Stugotz).
  • Ascended Extra:
    • Reali went from occasional panelist to long-term host following Max Kellerman's departure.
    • Pablo Torre, Israel Gutierrez, and Frank Isola are appearing a lot more frequently in the shows.
  • Berserk Button:
    • In October 2013, Reali started muting any panelist who ever utters the word "elite", because the panelists keep throwing that phrase around so much that it had lost its meaning, which annoys him greatly. He backed off the muting after a while, but any word he deems overused like "elite" and "problematic" is still subject to instant loss of points on the spot.
    • He mutes anyone who praises themselves:
    "Self-promotion is the mating call of the mute button!"
  • Borrowed Catchphrase: The March 8, 2013 episode saw J.A. Adande and Woody Paige do this to each other. During the end of First Word, Adande told Paige to "look at the schedule" when discussing the Chicago Bulls, much to Paige's chagrin. When Paige won the episode, he started off his Face Time by welcoming the audience to the "Woody Paige Lounge" to get back at Adande.
  • Broken Base: An In-Universe example. The 2012 season featured a pretty heated argument between Plaschke, Smith, Paige and Cowlishaw over NFL star LaDainian Tomlinson's preference about being a ringless Hall of Famer over a Super Bowl champion who didn't get into the Hall of Fame.
  • Butt-Monkey: Everyone gets treated like one at least once, and nothing they say is going to get them out of it once they realize it's happening. Some panelists seem to attract it through their mannerisms and personal preferences:
    • Nobody really seemed to like Jay Mariotti from the get-go. For example, during the year that the Cleveland Cavaliers had a 36-1 home record, Mariotti once said, "The only time they've lost at home was when I was at Cleveland watching it." Reali said, "And that's the reason they lost, Mariotti." In the same episode, Mariotti won the Showdown and was allowed to talk on Face Time. He proceeded to talk (apparently negatively) about Barack Obama, before Paige muted Mariotti and took over at Face Time instead. He and Paige had a long-standing rivalry from their previous work together that carried over to the show.
    • Tim Cowlishaw gets this treatment for being the only panelist who is an an avid fan of hockey, NASCAR, and who was an outspoken supporter of the BCS. This is frequently lampshaded. In one segment, Reali kept taking points away from Cowlishaw because he couldn't give clear answers (i.e. being on the fence regarding an issue instead of taking a side like the others did). During the episode where Paige was hosting, he changed the rule - the one with the highest score would be eliminated, and it was Cowlishaw.
    • Bill Plashcke is a second-favorite target, especially if a Los Angeles sports team is involved. Reali seems to love to mute him for being a "homer" if he picks the LA team to win, but also mute him for not having any team loyalty if he picks against the LA team.
    • Michael Smith gets this frequently, possibly a combination of him being a less-frequent panelist and the admittedly funny ways he reacts when Reali starts arbitrarily taking points from him. In one July 2012 episode, Reali said something about a horse, to which Smith chuckled. Reali asked "What's the matter, Michael Smith?" Smith (nervously) said, "Nothin'". Reali deducted eight points from him; if Reali hadn't done that, Smith would have advanced and Jones would've been eliminated.
    • Even the winningest panelist, Woody Paige, isn't immune. He generally takes the most jokes from Reali and the other panelists.
  • Camera Abuse: A mild example: At the end of almost every show, Reali crumples up a page or two of his notes and throws the wad at one of the cameras. After Reali was hired by Good Morning America and relocated to New York, this was replaced with Reali throwing a paper airplane at his camera in New York, followed by a cut to another paper airplane flying by the screens on the original set in Washington, D.C. On the rare occasions Reali does the show in D.C., he'll still wad and throw his notes.
  • Catchphrase: Several:
    • About the show:
    "The show of competitive banter!" and "The show that scores the argument!"
    "Four [adjective] sportswriters...", or "Four sportswriters who [whatever]" (this one has gone away, replaced by Reali giving the panelists' names at the very start of the show)
    "Ten topics, one winner!" ("Twelve topics" when the Lightning Round was used as the third segment instead of Out of Bounds; this one has been removed since the show's structure changed)
    Reali will occasionally yell "HORN!" right before the show cuts to a commercial. When Kellerman hosted, his announcer always ended his next segment programs with the word "around", just so he could add "...the HOOOOOOOORN!"
    "We're on a 23 and a half hour break" at the end of the show, which changes to "71 and a half" on the Friday show, and "[however many] and a half" for extended breaks such as pre-emptions or holidays.
    • Scoring:
    "Self-promotion is the mating call of the mute button."
    "A wave of mute-ilation!" (when Reali mutes all the panelists at once)
    "You're going the wrong way!" (as points are deducted)
    "You need to get a hold of your life!" (a contemptuous response to using extremely obscure/convoluted statistics)
    • Leading into the Showdown:
    "Two men enter, one man [something]" ("two enter, one [something]" if a female panelist makes it; pretty much gone now)
    If Paige and Mariotti made it to the Showdown, Reali frequently said "I believe you two know each other", in reference to the panelists' frosty relationship.
    • From Jackie MacMullan: "Greetings Anthony!" at the start of the show, if she's on.
    • From Woody:
    "Why do I always have to straighten you guys out?"
    "Look at the schedule!"
    He also likes to say "Hey now!" right as the camera cuts to Reali after the opening theme ends, which Reali almost always echoes.
    • From J.A. Adande, if he's the "winner": "Welcome to the J.A. Adande Lounge!", usually with a list of celebrity guests.
    • From Cowlishaw: "Wait, what happened there?!" as he loses points, or imitating various sports personas/celebrities, with varying degrees of success.
    • From Bob Ryan: "They stink!"
    • From Kevin Blackistone:
    "It's a freaky, fresh, funky Friday!" (Friday shows only)
    "What's happening, Tony?" which almost always leads to "Everything appears to be everything."
    • From Bomani Jones:
    "Panky rang!" (referring to that particular bit of jewelry, which he flashed as he was being eliminated or at the start of most of his Face Times. He's since done away with this)
    "Foolywang!", which translates to WTF?! and shows up when he's eliminated. This is used on his Twitter feed as opposed to the show itself.
  • Continuity Nod: Panelists will be deducted points if they don't keep their arguments relatively consistent with ones from previous episodes or if predictions made about the outcome of an event turn out to be drastically wrong:
    • One fairly extreme use of this was a 57-point penalty against Tim Cowlishaw before "The First Word" due to a bad guess made about Darrelle Revis.
    • For another extreme example, see the example listed under Aesop Amnesia. At the same time that Plaschke was deducted an ungodly amount of points, Jackie MacMullan was given an ungodly amount of points, as she was the only panelist to correctly predict the Mavericks' win in the Finals. Reali's opening to the show even stated that MacMullan was the only panelist with a chance of winning that day's show, a prediction that (unsurprisingly) turned out to be true. The other panelists did so poorly as a result of being penalized that MacMullan was the only panelist in the Showdown.
    • The September 26, 2011 episode had a particularly egregious example of the headstart and penalty - the previous episode had Paige dismiss the chances of the Buffalo Bills to beat the New England Patriots in that weekend's slate of NFL games, while Cowlishaw boldly predicted that the Bills would snap a 15-game losing streak to New England. The Bills won that Sunday and when the Monday episode rolled around, Reali simultaneously gave Cowlishaw a 23-point headstart and Paige a 27-point penalty for their predictions.
    • Paige and Smith predicted that the 2012 MLB All-Star Game would be all about the American League starters, with Smith predicting that pitcher Justin Verlander would dominate. Come the All-Star Game, the American League was crushed by the National League 10-0, with Verlander hit hard from the start. Paige and Smith both had 45 points deducted before the game even started.
    • After Alabama decimated Notre Dame in the 2012-13 BCS Championship Game, Reali deducted 42 points from every panelist who picked Notre Dame, the same number of points Alabama hung on the Irish.
    • Perhaps the most extreme penalty ever leveled against anyone was a 500 point deduction given to Jackie MacMullan on the June 28, 2013 episode for her incorrect prediction that head coach Doc Rivers would not leave his position with the Boston Celtics. Furthermore, her prediction included giving her permission to Reali to make the 500-point deduction if she turned out to be wrong. Naturally, she was the first eliminated with a final score of -474 points.
    • On the flip side, some panelists have been given "head starts", earning points before the opening round for correct picks on game outcomes or recent professional accomplishments. MacMullan received a 25-point bonus for being named a recipient of the Basketball Hall of Fame's Curt Gowdy Media Award in May of 2010. Paige received a 10-point bonus in 2009 for correctly predicting that the New Jersey Institute of Technology's basketball team would snap a 51-game losing streak and a 30-point bonus on January 9, 2012 for the Broncos upsetting the Steelers in the NFL playoffs.
  • Couch Gag: Woody Paige's chalkboard by his head will say something different after every commercial break.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Reali, especially in this exchange over Bryce Harper's new nickname - Bam Bam, named after his face was cracked after hitting himself with his bat:
    Woody Paige: I love the nickname. If you go back in history, where did "Bam Bam" come from? He was left on the doorstep of The Flintstones; he was adopted, and they named him Bam Bam because he could swing a club so well.
    Tony Reali: If you go back in history?
  • Demoted to Extra: It seemed like this was the case, as Reali went from the host of ATH to a stat guy in PTI. In actuality, PTI has been on the air longer. As such, Reali's role as "extra" came around first, but ATH holds the time slot immediately before PTI.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: "Travelers Around the Horn, presented by Travelers Insurance".
  • Distanced from Current Events: invoked Sensitive topics, such as deaths, arrests or possible racial issues, are sometimes discussed without any scoring, loud voices, or interrupting other panelists. To drive the point home, Reali will often close the topic by pointing out "not a lot of scoring that round" before moving on. The Out of Bounds segment was usually reserved for this material. One notable occurrence was the Freeh Report on the Penn State child sex abuse scandal. Entering Buy or Sell, nobody had a point, and barely anyone spoke over the other (sans Reali).
    • The August 1, 2022 episode covered several serious topics (De Shaun Watson's suspension for the A block and the death of Bill Russell for the B block), ending up with no points scored at all the episode. Instead of the Showdown for that episode, Reali gave everyone Face Time, and all four panelists were eventually credited with half a win.
  • Eccentric Mentor: Woody Paige serves this role.
  • Eliminated from the Race: After Buy or Sell and Round 3, the lowest-scoring player is cut with a lightning-bolt effect. With the show's format change, two panelists are now eliminated at the end of Buy or Sell.
  • Elimination Statement: After a panelist is eliminated, they get to make a short statement before the final mute. Said statement usually involves grousing about being eliminated.
  • Fake Ultimate Hero: Blackistone isn't impressed with Bill Russell. He seems to believe that Russell playing with six other Hall of Famers knocks Russell down a few pegs.
  • Fan Disservice: When MLB brought in a dress code for reporters banning tank tops, flip-flops and short skirts, Woody Paige said he'd go to the first game wearing all three. He lost points for it.
  • Flipping the Bird: After Paige used his fingers to count how many technicals Blake Griffin had (and lost points and the lead because his thumb stuck out, resulting in 16 instead of 17), Reali eliminated him, but not before Woody showed another 15 fingers, with the last one being the middle finger.
  • Guest Host: Pablo Torre filled in for Reali in August 2014 so Reali could be with his wife and newborn daughter. He also took over Reali's positions on Pardon the Interruption during the same time.
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language:
    • Bob Ryan occasionally slips in some Gratuitous French.
    • Jay Mariotti used to try and butter up Reali with Gratuitous Italian, and frequently got muted in response for "trying too hard".
  • Hilarity Ensues:
  • Halloween Episode: Once a year, on Halloween (or the previous Friday if it's on a weekend). That day's panelists always dress up in costume. Hilarity Ensues with memorable costumes such as Woody Paige's 2011 costume mocking the Boston Red Sox's "fried chicken and beer" incident.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Adande once said "In order to win tournaments, you have to win tournaments."
  • Irony: On Woody's chalkboard, it once said "Spoiler alert. Cowlishaw is out first." Paige was the first eliminated.
  • Large Ham: Seems like a requirement to be on the show. Paige and Plashcke in particular are extremely hammy.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: In one episode, Plaschke smugly bragged that he was close to eliminating the other panelists after the first cut. He became the next one eliminated.
  • Last-Name Basis: A lot of the time, mostly by Reali.
  • Mood Whiplash: After national tragedies, or a notable sports-related death or incident, the Face Time winner will seriously address the issue while the music fades out. As the panelists have several women and queer members, the winners will also use this time to speak up on issues regarding those groups and more.
  • Motor Mouth: Plashcke, frequently.
  • My Friends... and Zoidberg: In the third Winter Olympics 2014 episode, Reali talks about the achievements of the panelists. Note that at this time, J.A. Adande was leading the medal count:
    Tony Reali: Jackie MacMullan, highest winning percentage in show history. Pablo Torre, 2013 tournament of champions winner. Israel Gutierrez... also appears on this program.
  • No Indoor Voice: Just about everyone.
  • No Sympathy: Bomani's a borderline example, but only because he sounds perpetually deadpan.
  • Once Done, Never Forgotten: Tony Reali and the panelists still like to rib J.A. Adande for the infamous "In order to win tournaments, you have to win tournaments" line.
  • Podcast: The show offers a podcast version.
  • The Points Mean Nothing: A very borderline example, as the points allow panelists to keep talking with the eventual winner getting "face time" at the end, but they are awarded and taken away so arbitrarily that it's hard to take it seriously as any sort of measure. When Max Kellerman still hosted the show, the points did mean something. The writers would get 1 point for a good argument, 2 for a great one, and would get muted (with a -3 point penalty as opposed to the current -1) for bad ones or if they made fun of the Yankees, as opposed to the half dozen points they get just for existing. A good day for one of the writers would typically net them 25 points at the end of the Buy or Sell, which is the average that they get now at the end of the first round.
  • Product Placement: Travelers Insurance, Pizza Hut, and the rotating lineup of alcohol drinks that sponsor ESPN's "Happy Hour" have been the principal sponsors since the show converted to HD. The first two companies' logos were used in the on-set decorations, while the spirits' logos are the first things shown when the show cuts to the studio in the intro and are displayed over the ESPN logo in the ticker during the show.
  • Pun:
    • Paige is a fan of these.
    • Reali sometimes will move on to the next topic by muting the entire panel and declaring "A wave of mute-ilation!"
    • When the show's main sponsor changed from Travelers Insurance to Pizza Hut, the show's intro over the opening music changed to "Around the Horn, delivered by Pizza Hut!"
  • Put on a Bus: You'll be surprised at how many times The Bus Came Back, but Jay Mariotti has not appeared since his August 2010 arrest. He was dropped with little fanfare (a brief discussion about it on one of the following episodes), and it doesn't sound like he'll ever be returning.
  • Retool: Just before Max Kellerman left, panelists all got face time in relation to points.
  • Running Gag: During the "Buy or Sell" rounds before the panel got more youthful, Reali will often make references to '80s Nintendo games just to elicit silent confusion among the significantly older panelists.
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!:
    • Paige especially exhibited this during the role reversal with Reali as the host.
    • Reali himself gets into it at times. Plaschke and Paige were in Showdown, but both made a pun and Reali deducted a point from each. He then chose to give the win to MacMullan, who had already been eliminated in the second cut.
  • Shaped Like Itself: "To win tournaments, you have to win tournaments."
  • Shout-Out:
    • Tony opens every show with "Tuh-DAY" in the inflection of Jimmy Conway shaking down Morrie in Goodfellas ("Money, tuh-DAY! Tuh-DAY!").
    • ATH once opened with Reali making his way to the ''ATH'' set in a 3-minute unbroken shot à la Goodfellas.
    • Reali loves to quote his favorite movies, like Goodfellas and Ocean's Eleven ("Those are Terry Benedict's casinos!"). A panelist can get easy bonus points for spouting a quote from one of Reali's favorites, a Shout-Out to a Shout-Out if you will.
    • When a panelist is eliminated, their screen freezes. Once Pablo Torre was eliminated, he decided to pose as Han Solo encased in Carbonite, hands raised, mouth open and all.
    • When Frank Isola was the first cut, he said to Reali "Don't ever take sides against the family." This led to a Dude, Not Funny! reaction from just about everyone else, including Reali himself, who took the longest time to recover from the "Godfather Card" (as he called it) being used on him.
    • At the start of the January 10, 2016 episode, the day David Bowie died, Reali began the show with "commencing countdown, engines on."
  • The Smurfette Principle: For years, Jackie MacMullen, an accomplished Celtics beat writer, was the lone regular female panelist on the show. In The New '10s, more female sports journalists like Ramona Shelburne, Kate Fagan, Jemele Hill, and Sarah Spain joined the regular rotation, to the point that ATH has had several shows with an all-female panel.
  • Stupid Sexy Flanders: Reali always refers to Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte as a "gooooood-looking man", since they bear quite the resemblance to each other.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Tony Reali for Max Kellerman.
  • Swapped Roles: On the 2009 April Fools' Day episode, panelist Woody Paige and host Tony Reali switched roles. Hilarity ensued.
  • Title Drop: Used often in the Kellerman era; he would end the coming up teaser with the word "around", followed by the Disembodied Voice finishing up with "...the Horn!" Reali just says "Horn!" after his.