FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014
TRANSCRIPT – MEDIA CONFERENCE CALL WITH NBC SPORTS GROUP CHAIRMAN MARK LAZARUS AND VETERAN BROADCAST JOURNALIST JOSH ELLIOTT
Wed., April 2, 2014
1 p.m. ET
Dan Masonson: Good afternoon everyone and welcome to today’s NBC Sports Group conference call. Joining us today are NBC Sports Group Chairman, Mark Lazarus and the newest member of NBC Sports’ on air team. As a reminder, a transcript of today’s call will be available later this afternoon on nbcsportsgrouppressbox.com. We will begin with opening comments before taking you questions. So, with that, I’ll turn it over to Mark Lazarus.
Mark Lazarus: Thank you Dan. Thank you all for joining us. I am here today very proud to make what I know is a most surprising announcement that Josh Elliott will be joining NBC Sports Group as our newest talent and we are thrilled that he is joining us. When we became aware that Josh would be available, we immediately sought to get together with him and see if we could add his very obvious and very broad range of talent to our already outstanding team.
He joins a group that we believe is unrivaled and he adds strength and depth to that group. His sports journalism background and broad TV experience fits our strategy perfectly. We serve avid fans and we work to grow properties. Josh’s ability to connect with core fans and casual fans is going to be good for our shows and good for our partners.
His first event will be this year’s Kentucky Derby on May 3. We’re thrilled for Josh to join us and work across a myriad of our properties which we believe are the biggest moments in television. Josh?
Josh Elliott: Thanks Mark. I am thrilled to my core to be here today and not just because my commute is suddenly a couple exits down 95. I grew up with a love for sports that has been unrivaled. From the very first I came of age as a professional and have what I haltingly call a career because of sports and everything it has meant to me. It has always been a place where I feel you find the best stories, you find the essence of what it is to be human, to achieve and to triumph and to fail and make your way back to triumph again.
The stories and all the different ways they can be told and can be covered have always been what gets me out of bed in the morning and the ability to join the team that I join today is something that is dizzying even to think about now, and because I get to dust off all the sports metaphors and analogies yet again, I absolutely believe that I am the last man on the bench of the ShowTime Lakers with the best seat in the house as I watch the best in the business get it done night in, night out on the biggest stage and I am over the moon to be here.
I also do want to say that coming here was the best decision for me but it was a decision that was tough to make. It was bittersweet. It is made with a degree of melancholy and it was made with a heavy heart because the last almost decade of my time spent at Disney — first with ESPN and then the last three wondrous years at ABC News and as a part of a team on Good Morning America — were a remarkable number of years and I am here today because of all the opportunities I was given at ESPN and then at ABC. I am and shall remain eternally thankful for all the people who helped me along the way and none more so than Ben Sherwood who gave me the opportunity of a lifetime and an opportunity that I will forever be thankful for and so, with that, I look to the future however unbelievable it actually is and I give it to all of you. Fire away.
Josh, why would you want to go from being on the air every day at the number one morning show to being the last man on the bench as you put it?
Josh Elliott: Well, I would first say that being on the air every day has never been something that I ever needed. If a day goes by that I’m not on television, I don’t look at it as a lesser day nor do I look at changing from a news world to a sports world as any sort of step other than a step in a new direction. You see the world now in the sports world, life and death, crime and punishment, economics and on down the line. The ability to join this team, to be the rookie on this team, is really what I want for myself personally.
The ability to learn things every day, and lord knows I will here, is really all I could ever ask for. The ability to tell stories I have not been able to tell before is all I could ask for. As much as the last three years, especially, have been a thrill, the chance to cover the instillation of a Pope and then meet that Pope, the chance to meet the brave service men and women overseas who sacrifice for our freedoms on a trip to Afghanistan, to have a front row seat to history and all its hideousness in Boston a year ago or just down the road from where I live in Newtown, those are all things I could never have believed I would have an opportunity to do. But it is a profound and essential part of my being that has wanted to be a part of an Olympics broadcast long before I ever wanted to be on TV or thought I ever would be.
I have loved sports since I could walk. If there’s one thing from my childhood I still wish I had is that little 12 inch black and white TV that I would watch in my room. I would watch my Dodgers and my Kings and my Lakers and my Rams, of course, before I was forsaken by them. I make this step today because, for me personally, the ability to be a part of something this good was an opportunity that I had to take. It was right – it came down to that. It was a choice I had to make.
Has any news role been discussed with you and are you at all interested in succeeding Matt Lauer someday on the TODAY show?
Josh Elliott: No news role has been discussed with me. I hope Matt Lauer is here when I step away from this gig 30 years down the road. I love being a part of a team and the team I’m on now is a fantastic one. If the team I’m on now is part of a much bigger team here at NBC, I will feel about all the folks here the same way I feel about the men and the women that I’ll work with every day at NBC Sports.
I hope I learn things from them too. I wish them the very best and while I realize that had I taken a job as a swing shift security guard at Universal Studios, the first question would be about Matt Lauer. I can assure you this decision was a deeply personal decision to return to a world at a level I could never have dreamed and today, sitting here, at a very lovely NBC Sports complex I might add, I could not be happier.
This is for Mark. When you do call Josh up from the end of the bench, could you flesh out a little bit more what you have in mind for him for things like the NFL and the Olympics?
Mark Lazarus: We’re going to start with the Kentucky Derby and work in the Triple Crown. Big events that have avid fans but also bring in other big broad casual fans. Coming on the heels of that, we’re discussing all of our properties whether it’s the French Open where we have the final rounds, whether it’s the major golf that we have a big role in, obviously, in our portfolio. As we get to the NFL, we have the opening night of the NFL which will be a big event and it’s not a secret. It’s always at the home of the world champion and this year will be, at least we think, given the NFL scheduling, our game will be out west in Seattle.
Working on the NFL doing features and interviews, adding to our shows, working with the team and Josh has been clear from the beginning — from the first time that I met him — of his aspirations to remain part of a team like he was from the place he just left which was a team that gelled well. We think he can be a big part of continuing that ‘esprit de corps’ that we have here on into the Super Bowl where we have a couple days of content where we open a big tent and bring in tens of millions of viewers and then, every other year, when the Olympics come to our air, at least through the year 2020, we have networks and day parts which all need not only stories but hosts. We know that Josh will play a big role in that.
It sounds like a fair chunk of what his duties will be, you know, hosting-type things. Is that fair to say or is it just not all been flushed out yet?
Mark Lazarus: I think it’s fair to say it’s a mix. And you know, some of the discussions that we had early on is, “What’s your true love?” And you know, sports is a given, that’s why he’s here with us today.
But you know, he was a journalist, a reporter, a host, an anchor. He’s done hard interviews, he’s done soft interviews. He’s had to do all these wonderful experiences that serve our strategy very, very well.
So I think you’ll see a mixture of that. You’ll see him hosting in some areas and interviews and reporting in other areas. One of the beauties of this budding a new relationship is that it’s completely a complement to everyone else we have who’s here. And it’s a great add to our roster to our depth.
It’s still early and we’re planning. The deal just happened over the weekend so we’ve got plenty of time to sort all that out.
Will you be getting a traditional farewell from the folks at GMA or have you seen the last of that studio?
Josh Elliott: I don’t know. I think those sorts of decisions aren’t mine to make. And I was really happy to see my teammates wish me so well on Monday morning. The words that they all shared, in what has been a surreal time, really meant the world. And I wish them nothing but the best. My love for them, despite what you might read in some corners, is profound, it is iron clad, and it would require far more of your time than I think any of you have to give if I was to really take a real attempt at trying to explain it. So again, those are decisions that aren’t mine to make, but I am incredible grateful for the well-wishes that I received from the people with whom I worked with every day.
Do you think it’s inevitable that when you leave a network for another network in a highly competitive world that you’re going to get background comments, stories of backbiting, people saying you weren’t grateful enough or whatever it is you’re hearing? Do you think that is inevitable when you switch networks like this?
Josh Elliott: To a degree I think it probably is. I think it speaks to a greater coursing of the dialogue, especially in the media world. But I think it’s a way to sort of push an angle. If I was to try to address every chased angle on this really non-story, I again would waste a lot of people’s time refuting things that have been by measure unfortunate, untrue, absurd, laughable, but also sad. You know, there has been a measure of sadness in reading just some of the categorically untrue things about some wonderful people. I have love – deep, abundant, eternal love — in my heart for all the people with whom I worked every day at ABC and at ESPN. And certainly I reserve a special place on that list for the people that made this possible.
And all the rest, as we have discussed privately in email exchanges and phone call exchanges in the last few days, is just noise. I could come on here and speak to that and let the joy of this moment get away, and frankly, personal joy is something I don’t always allow myself; I think it’s part of my curse.
But I am going to drink in every single moment of the fact that I am on an NBC Sports team that is wonderful and gracious enough to have me as a member. And I’m going to focus…I’m going to hope your remark wasn’t right about not wanting to be a member of a club that would have you.
And did the Pope at all say something like, “I liked your early sports stuff better?”
Josh Elliott: My favorite part of meeting the Pope that day, other than, you know, meeting the Pope, was that it was during a Wednesday audience when he had brought the team of his youth, the soccer team in Argentina, that was really admired in their league standings. And since his installation as Pope, had this miraculous turnaround and up the charts they shot. So he got to have the team of his youth there. And I wish you could see me on this conference call, but as he walked past them and there were 30,000, 40,000 people in the square there at Saint Peter’s, when he walked past them, he gave them this double-fist pump, you know, lower first-pump like he just scored a goal, and they went to pieces.
Just to have that sort of seat up close for that sort of thing was just one of the countless moments of my stay there at ABC News, that I sat back and thought, “I can’t believe a young kid from Westchester, California, from the mean streets of Westchester Park, is getting to enjoy this.” It was incredible to see.
Was this an acrimonious parting with GMA because it sounds like negotiations were contentious.
Josh Elliott: It was not an acrimonious parting at all. I have been amazed, even as somebody who’s been in this business for a bit now, at how a deeply personal choice became almost this bit player in this absurdist melodrama.
I want to say this categorically and for the record. I owe everything to the folks at Disney. They are the ones who put me on the air nine years ago as the host of the dearly departed Classic Now on ESPN Classic, and I know none of you know of which I speak.
But I do know, ever since that day, the opportunities I’ve been given by the great folks of the Disney Corporation and first through ESPN and later at ABC and ABC News – they are why I am here today. They had no business putting me on the air. And I would argue there is a great number who believe that to be true even today. But I have nothing but gratitude for them.
I want to speak to my very deep and abiding and important relationship that I had with Ben Sherwood. Everything I have today I owe to Ben. The opportunity he gave me three years ago to join a remarkable team at Good Morning America is something that I will forever thank him for.
When you were in a room with Ben, you were better and smarter for it. Our talks about television theory and philosophy were my very favorites that I’ve had with anyone when it came to what makes good TV, what makes bad TV, what would you do in this situation, what would you do in that situation. And our talks over months and months only further entrenched those truths.
They also put a generous and wonderful offer on the table. They were incredibly kind, and really made this for me simply a qualitative choice.
I actually had the choice to make, and I’m lucky enough to have had that because Lord knows not a lot of people get that in this business, but when I had that choice to make and I saw all the opportunities I had as a member of Disney and certainly a member of ABC News, I’m not being afforded another set of opportunities that come around once in a lifetime. And I had to look and decide what was best for me at this moment in time.
This wasn’t one company doing something to another company. This wasn’t somebody looking to upset an applecart somewhere else.
I was the subject of this sentence. I made this choice, and I am again, so happy to have made the choice I made. I cannot believe that I will be part of an Olympics broadcast. And I want you to know I run a great camera too; trust me. I’ll have that thing in focus the whole time.
I feel like the luckiest man in television today. That is all because of what was for me, a wondrous near-decade spent at Disney. And certainly because of a glorious three years spent with wonderful people at ABC News and Good Morning America with whom I made a little history, with whom I had too many laughs, and with whom I enjoyed doing television every day.
What do you think about Strahan joining GMA?
Josh Elliott: Michael Strahan is somebody that I’ve known for a long time. He used to fill notebooks for me when I was at Sports Illustrated and he was a Giant. He reached out to congratulate me on this latest move in my crazy life and we had the opportunity to laugh about…you know, who would’ve thought this sweaty, smelly jock and the overly tall, you know, sports writer/scribe would find ourselves here? It’s heavy-duty stuff.
I think Michael would improve any team he joins and knowing the strength and the power of the team that certain reports suggest he will be joining seems a great deal for all involved.
Since Strahan and Matt Lauer have already been asked, let me ask you about Amy Robach since you’ve worked with her. How do you see her fitting in there full time?
Josh Elliott: She’s one of my very favorite people. So you’ll forgive me, I’m a little biased. She arrived to ABC at a very difficult time for all involved. You know, when she arrived Robin was making final preparations to go to war with the illness that she would beat back. And Amy was really thrust into a virtually impossible situation.
I did not have the opportunity to really know her prior to her arrival, but every single day that I got to work with her I was a little more amazed at how somebody could be so good at so many different things, and yet still be such a great human being.
Amy is a phenomenal journalist. Amy is a brilliant woman. Amy is – I’ve laughingly described her as the, you know, she is half pirate, half trucker. She’s about as tough as they come. And she is somebody for whom opportunity should always knock.
I would be lying to you if I didn’t say that my departure was made 1% less difficult knowing that she would be taking that seat and sitting there every day which she deserves, on the biggest stage doing the best work.
She is a dear friend. I love her to death and when I called her that night, Sunday night as this stuff all landed, I just wanted to make sure she was okay. She has a couple of more rounds of treatment in her before she gets to officially thumb her nose at cancer herself. But they could not have chosen a better person. And I could not tell you how wide the smile is right now as I say it. She’s a really spectacular human being.
I know you mentioned you haven’t talked with anyone on news and I don’t mean this in a replacing Matt Lauer way. I just mean it in a way that you guys all chip in on these morning shows. When you’re non-compete expires which I understand is about six months from now do you see yourself at least involved in The TODAY Show as a sports corresponded? I mean, certainly when the Olympics come around but on a more regular level?
Josh Elliott: I can tell you that really the only discussions that I’ve had as they relate to news is regarding ways to provide sports content for them across all of their shows. I hope I have a chance to tell the story as I get to tell to the most number of people. And thankfully I’m at a place that has a lot of different ways to do that whether it’s digital properties and dot-com, whether it’s with the entertainment folks…
Mark Lazarus: That’s something that I would discuss with NBC News or NBC Entertainment down the line. Our mission right now is to get Josh integrated into NBC Sports, to get up to date on all of our properties, on our schedule and everything that we’re doing. We have a great group of people here but with Josh we get better.
First of all I want to start by saying that I was a viewer of Classic Now and I take exception to your characterization. I thought you made some good TV there.
Josh Elliott: Thank you. Thank you. You and my mother are in lock step on that point.
I know you’re accustomed to reporting the news. You’re not used to being the subject of the news. How are you dealing with all the headlines and the speculation? How has it affected you personally? And really did you anticipate all of this?
Josh Elliott: I did not anticipate all of it. I realize that things so often in this world have taken on a life of their own, and news cycles become what they become. I do tend to quote Super Chicken in times such as this. I knew the job was dangerous when I took it. Bok, bok, bok, bok.
It’s been really difficult. It’s been difficult to read categorical falsehood after categorical falsehood. It’s been difficult to read things that I know are being propagated for page views or for eyeballs or to sell papers. It has been painful.
You know, Mark said it to me on the phone a couple of days ago. You know, “Your E quotient’s pretty high.” And this is a part of life when maybe that’s not the best thing. I tend to feel things rather intensely and to be in the center of it – and I’m hesitant to call it a maelstrom. But to be in the center of whatever this has been the last couple of days has been incredibly uncomfortable and at times very painful because I didn’t have the ability to address things in real time.
But I have tried to compartmentalize that as best I can, to focus on the good stuff. And for me that means looking back at nine years of which I’m incredibly proud. I mean, I know – heck my TV, my career when it began on Cold Pizza with you…to look from then to now I’m incredibly proud to have been a part of the team that I called home.
And I am equally as proud now to take new steps in a new direction after a deeply personal and very difficult choice that nevertheless is going to take me to places that I could’ve only dreamed to go.
Mark Lazarus: You think this is hard wait till you get criticized for being part of a tape-delayed Olympics.
Josh Elliott: I do want to say I waited until Rio loomed on the docket because I look forward to sports in prime time I think as do so many others.
Since you brought up Ben Sherwood a couple of times he mentioned something in his memo announcing the change that seemed unusual for some of this corporate language, saying that, “We worked hard to close a significant gap between our generous offer and his expectations. In the end Josh felt he deserved a different deal.” Did that sting you? Do you have any reaction to that?
Josh Elliott: I had no reaction to that. I’ve always abided by the prayer or the thought — call it what you will — that we have to accept the things that we can’t change.
I know how I feel about Ben Sherwood. Ben knows how I feel about him. And I’d like to think I know how Ben feels about me. We were partners in a crazy thing. I mean, Ben was crazy to give me a shot. He took a huge gamble. Rolled too many dice. Could not have ever believed perhaps that it would work out the way it did, that I would join a team that would coalesce and really come together and really do some things if which we are all proud.
You know, I speak to Rich’s earlier question about, don’t I think a certain level of acrimony is almost to be expected in making a switch as I made? If there was anything other than a laudatory tone and a genuine love I think it probably derives from — excuse me — the intensely personal nature of it all.
It’s not easy to do this publicly. It’s not easy to go through any of this publicly. And as much as I thought I knew how it would be I had no idea that some of this would actually transpire.
Sting to me is just another action verb like so many others that have been attached to this situation that really couldn’t begin to capture the deep emotion and the deep love that I have for Ben. He is and always will be the reason I’m here. And I will forever love him deeply and passionately for it.