Lost in the Pop Culture Wilderness: The End of the “Grantland” Era

ESPN announced Friday that they were completely closing or “suspending” the Grantland site. This news comes on the heels of months of the site slowly losing the voices that had built it into one of only a handful of places I, and I can only assume others (though not enough for ESPN) visited on a daily basis.

First ESPN let Bill Simmons go, then slowly the writer’s who Simmons had recruited began to have their contracts expire and to depart for other media outlets. To me, the most personal and impacting arm of Grantland has always been their feeds of podcasts (The Grantland Sports and Grantland Pop Culture podcast feeds.)

After losing the BS report last spring, the next major departure was Wesley Morris, who took a job at the New York Times. He and Alex Pappademas’ “Do You Like Prince Movies?” wrapped up in September. Wesley and Alex looked at movies, often opining about smaller indie movies that I would have little exposure to without their voices. Each week they ended the show with a “jam of the week” which challenged listeners to expand their Spotify playlists.

Losing “Do You Like Prince Movies?” left a hole in my weekly listening calendar, but the announcement that Chris Ryan and Juliet Litman (along with Sean Fennessey and Mallory Rubin) to work for Simmons pulled three more shows from the Grantland slate.

All respects to Ms. Litman, whose “Food News” podcast I have enjoyed, the biggest loss here was the combination of Chris Ryan and Andy Greenwald on the “Hollywood Prospectus” podcast. Over the last four years, Ryan and Greenwald have become defining voices in the television arena. Their opinions have shaped what I personally feel about the television which we watch.

There has come to be something comforting about hearing the opening, Chris Ryan coming in hot with his characteristic introduction “And on the other line. . . he’s (witty recent reference), it’s Andy Greenwald!”

And that’s the real shame here. The closing of Grantland doesn’t feel like the loss of a website, a column, or a podcast. These people, these voices who we’ve listened to and grown attached to for the past four years feel like the loss of friends who’ve come to be a part of our lives, joining us in our ear holes every week. The Grantland “G” symbol has grown to symbolize the kind of excellence that can be counted on, and the kind personalities who you can trust. The friendly conversational tones of the podcasts developed relationships with the listeners. The inside jokes that you learned, things that started in the first years of the podcast that would be referenced in the last made you feel connected in a way that few programs can or even try to do.

But now, Grantland is gone. ESPN has lost Bill Barnwell, Andy Greenwalk, Chris Ryan, Robert Mays, Rembert Brown, Juliet Litman, Sean Fennesey, Bill Simmons, Alex Pappademas, Wesley Morris, et al. Whether they will retain Jonah Keri, Kirk Goldsberry, and some of the other more sports oriented writers remains to be seen. They’ve also recently lost a litany of other voices– Colin Cowherd who was fired over the summer, Doug Gottlieb who defected to CBS, and Jim Rome who left their TV station for Show Time, and several others.

ESPN built a business based on connection to sports and relationships with their stars. In the wake of the closing of Grantland, I’m left wondering if investing in ESPN is worth my energy and time. With the increased competition in the sports channel marketplace, it raises questions of whether ESPN’s long held dominance is coming to an end in the foreseeable future.

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