5 Question With… Ernie Johnson

By Brian Flood 

EJ2Ernie Johnson wears many hats in the sports broadcasting world. As the host of TNT’s “Inside the NBA,” he has picked up multiple Sports Emmys, he’s gearing up for TNT’s coverage of this weekend’s 2015 NBA All-Star game in New York and he’s one of the key personalities of Turner and CBS’ coverage of the 2015 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament next month. His career began in traditional news, which he stills follows very closely.

We caught up with Johnson to talk about how he consumes news, dealing with Charles Barkley‘s rants and even his take on Brian Williams.

TVNewser: Your career started out in news working as both a reporter and news anchor. Was the transition to sports always a goal of yours?


Johnson: I’ve always been a big sports fan, growing up with a dad who played Major League Baseball with the Braves back in the 1950s, that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a baseball player. I just seemed to lack the talent to carry that through. As I tell people, ‘I walked on at the University of Georgia as a freshman, and was told to walk off as a sophomore.’ So, I had to decide what to do with my life. My dad, for better than 30 years, was a broadcaster and I used to hang around the booth. Basically, I told myself ‘whoever offers me a TV job first, I’m going to take it.’ I flunked a sports audition in Albany, Georgia after school but then passed one in Macon as a news anchor. So, that’s the job I took. It really just happened one day, I had sports in my blood but told myself news was going to be the direction. Until a new news director took over one day as I was filling in for a sports guy at WSB and then next day I came in and he said ‘have you ever thought about doing sports?’ I said, well I’ve always loved it. He moved me from news to sports and that’s what happened back in 1983 or ’84 and I’ve been in sports ever since.

TVNewser: With such a busy schedule covering sports and raising six children, how do you consume news these days?

Johnson: I consume news now the way most people do, the internet has changed everything. So, I’ll look at CNN, MSNBC. I’ll look anywhere to see what’s going on. I watch everybody, really. I’ll watch CNN. I’ll watch Fox News. I like to see how various outlets cover various stories. When I’m at home, at 6:30 my wife and I watch the “Nightly News” on NBC and then at 7 o’clock we switch it over to ABC.  So, we just watch wherever it is and consume it. Both internet and the traditional way of watching a half-hour network newscast.

[Editor’s note: This interview was conducted a few hours before Brian Williams was suspended by NBC News]

TVNewser: Has the Brian Williams controversy changed whether or not you’ll watch the “Nightly News?”

Johnson: No, we’re kind of in that pattern of at 6:30 saying, ‘let’s watch this.’ It’s been kind of strange to watch that unfold, because we’re big Brian Williams fans. We love his style on the air and always have. It’ll be interesting to see how NBC is going to handle that. From a bigger picture standpoint, you have to wonder what’s going through their minds right now. They have to get into the minds of viewers at home. Are viewers at home going to watch that with a doubt in their mind that what they’re being told is 100 percent the facts? I regret what’s happened there, because I think he’s a really good news man and an excellent anchor.

TVNewser: You work with some big personalities on “Inside the NBA.” How do you keep the show moving when Charles Barkley goes off on a tangent, or Shaq starts clowning around?

[Johnson co-hosts “Inside the NBA” with former NBA stars Barkley, Kenny Smith, Shaquille O’Neal and sometimes Chris Webber, Grant Hill or Reggie Miller are also brought on]

Johnson: Part of it is, we like that. It keeps our show really fresh, keeps it unpredictable, spontaneous. We don’t rehearse that show, we don’t prep the guys or give a broad outline on what’s going to happen each night. We like to throw things at them and get a genuine, honest, gut-level reaction. They know what’s going on and come in armed with an opinion. There are times Charles sits down, we start doing pregame and getting into the first topic we want to talk about and he says ‘hey, can I get something off my chest?’ It may take the show in a different direction. I think that’s great. It’s what separates us, from time to time, from other shows. When Charles goes off on something, or Shaq tells me that he wants somebody to push a Christmas tree over on him, it’s just all in a day’s work.

TVNewser: You’re heading to NYC for the NBA All-Star Weekend. Looking forward to any non-work related things? Maybe a particular meal?

Johnson: Brian, let me say this. I wish that I could look at my schedule and say, ‘there might be a night where I can go get a nice Italian meal.’ It’s not. During All-Star Weekend it never, never happens that way. Last year in New Orleans there was snow coming into Atlanta in the forecast so I left a couple days early. It was a rare time where I was able to go out to two restaurants in New Orleans on consecutive nights and heave a leisurely, really good dinner. That was a special thing. The way it works this year, one of our executives is hosting a dinner for us and that will be the only time I eat something at a restaurant. Most of my food is going to be coming out of the green room at Hammerstein, the Barclays Center or Madison Square Garden [venues where Johnson will be broadcasting this weekend]. Unfortunately, my pallet will have to go unsatisfied. There is nothing I love better than finding a good Italian spot and treating myself, but no such luck this trip.

Check out a recent “Inside the NBA” segment, in which Barkley gets something off his chest, below: