The first episode of HBO’s Game Theory With Bomani Jones premiered last week, seeing the Emmy-winning sports journalist and media personality do what he does best, in a new role as a late-night host on the prestige premium cable.
A show centered around his unique talents seems like a no-brainer, but has been a long time coming. And through its initial six-episode run it looks to make its mark as a wholly unique take.
Jones said down with Shadow and Act recently to share some insights into the show and his experience making it.
With intro music from legendary producer Just Blaze, by way of an assist from legendary Houston Rapper Bun B, Jones has his superhero theme song with a $9000 suit on in lieu of a cape and cowl.
The show immediately hits you with a distinct identity and that this isn’t gonna be the late-night show you are used to seeing.
When asked about the freedom and HBO show allows for outside of the sports giant ESPN, Jones explained, “I don’t feel like there was anything in the first episode that I would not say on ESPN, you can cuss a little bit more, but I never felt handcuffed at ESPN. The ideas I was presenting and the notions, I would say that anywhere. I just have more room to operate.”
Jones explained that ESPN doesn’t make shows like this and that there’s a different ambition at play. The show features Jones delivering late-night jokes and observations from behind a desk, something he is excited to see evolve through the show’s run.
When developing the show, Jones says he made it clear that the jokes have to sound more organic– like he’s actually saying them, rather than sounding like he’s just reading from a teleprompter. He says the show “isn’t much different” than what he already does, but there’s an adjustment in a scripted series versus having a certain amount of time to commentate freely.
Jones has been hailed for his cerebral takes and observations but he has also been someone who finds the underlying hilarity in sports and recognizes the ridiculousness that sports can create. When asked about balancing the seriousness of stories with finding the hilarious sports can produce, he commented, “For me, its always been about that because things are always a range of what it can be, and so I take whatever the topic is as I receive it and give you back what I got.”
With Jones being the man that everything runs through, the show, like any late-night show hinges on the host’s ability and talent and how the material is used and formed into a unified vision. Jones praised the show’s creative process and recognized the collaboration between the various moving parts of the show, like his writer’s room and news department, as something special. “I love it,” he said of the process. “It’s an invigorating process to have so many smart people in there, all working together to make ‘one thing, as good as it possibly can be.”
Game Theory puts Jones in multiple settings. We see him behind the desk like any late-night show would have, along with some “man on the street” segments where we get regular folks’ reactions to some of the more ridiculous stories for some genuine laughs, a segment Jones said would be easier when it’s not freezing outside.
Jones also sat down with his fellow ESPN colleague Stephen A. Smith. There’s a familiarity and comfort in the interview that showed a more laid-back Smith as a counter to his TV personality. Jones said he was surprised at just how open and willing to share Smith was, and that the entire interview was compelling but only so much of it could fit into the show.
The show also produced a hilarious look at the dominance of legendary NCAA men’s basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski (who is now entering his final NCAA tournament) with Jones breaking down Black people’s dislike of Duke and everything Coach K. Jones’s hilarious breakdown leads into an amazing sketch that felt like something out of Chappelle’s Show if it were centered around sports. Jones described the “Coach K Museum” as materializing out of an idea thrown around in a phone call with a producer, the seed of that conversation eventually grew into the major highlight for the first episode of the series, a feature of the newfound power and room to operate Jones now has with Game Theory.
Game Theory is live to tape, filming its episode day-of, something that is unusual in the sports space. Jones says the day of shooting was pretty easy, remarking on the one-hour shoot by saying, “It’s easy money for me, reading off the teleprompter, I have to get better at it, but it’s not hard. It was a zero pressure day for me.” The confidence and assuredness he has about the show stems from the belief that their product is good and the opportunity he and his staff have been presented with has been taken advantage of fully. According to Jones, everything that comes after is icing on the cake.
After the first shoot, Jones says he was given an ovation that hit home for him. “I was very touched by the fact that our whole team, most of whom don’t really know me like that, seemed very happy for me,” he said. “Happy about the show, but specifically happy for me and I found that very heartwarming.
He spoke of embracing his agent, who he has worked with for more than a decade, in one of the more emotional of many embraces he had that day. “We had been pointing to this for a decade, this has been something we have specifically wanted,” he added.
As someone who isn’t averse to praise but is measured in receiving it, Jones says he leaned all the way into it this time around, marking the occasion as a celebration of his 22 years in the industry culminating in this achievement.
Game Theory WIth Bomani Jones airs Sundays at 11:30 p.m. with this week’s episode airing at 11 p.m. directly after Winning Time. It also streams on HBO Max.