The longtime "Today" host shares his thoughts about Lance Armstrong, the Minnesota Twins and a possible return to daily TV.
Bryant Gumbel wants to gossip about the Golden Globes.
This may surprise casual followers who think of Gumbel as the guy who bristled when David Letterman boomed wisecracks through a megaphone during a outdoor taping of the "Today" show and was the author of an infamous memo to network execs, accusing "Today" co-workers of not taking their jobs seriously enough.
But there's another Gumbel that's often overlooked, the one who used to host "Survivor" finales and the Emmy Awards, the one who endured countless cooking segments during two stints on morning talk shows, the one who gamely made a cameo in the Nicolas Cage movie "The Weather Man."
In other words, Gumbel is a lot more fun than people give him credit for, which is why it's borderline criminal that he no longer appears on TV on a regular basis.
When not sharing his off-the-record thoughts on Jodie Foster's acceptance speech, Gumbel hinted in a phone interview earlier this week that he might consider returning to the daily grind of daytime TV. Until then, there's plenty to talk about, including a new season of his HBO show "Real Sports," which kicks off Tuesday with a profile on Minneapolis native Royce White, a promising basketball player who's been on the sidelines because of a battle with anxiety disorders. And then there's a certain athlete whom Gumbel, 64, took to task in an on-air editorial last fall.
Q No one has been more critical of Lance Armstrong than you. Now that he's confessed to doping, can you muster up any sympathy?
A I don't want to be the person who can't find it in his heart to find forgiveness, but the way he's handled himself and assailed his critics makes it hard. I mean, he vilified anyone who came up against him, so much so that you can't just give him a do-over.
Q What if he called up and said he wanted to appear on "Real Sports"?
A I'd be happy to sit down and talk with him, but I don't think he's going to do that. I don't think he wants to answer difficult questions that will make him uncomfortable. He's going to choose the path of least resistance.
Q What makes a good "Real Sports" story?
A Someone much smarter than I am said that the best kind of stories are the ones that make you go, "Huh. I didn't know that." They show you things you didn't know existed or make you think about things in a different way. If you tell it right, you don't need melodramatic music in the background. It sounds simplistic, but when it's done right, it still works.
Q How do you decide what stories you want to tackle yourself?
A The silly thing is that it depends on my mood that day. I like things that tend to have some depth and layers to them. If I'm fascinated by it, then it's easier for me to explain to viewers.
Q Do you get first dibs on stories?
A Um, I get first dibs if there are ideas that weren't brought up by the correspondents. You'd be surprised how reticent I am about big-footing others.
Q Why would I be surprised?
A I think there's an image of people who have been in TV for a long time that they force their way onto the air and take whatever they want. I'm sensitive to that.
Q Let's break out the crystal ball. What do you think will be the big sports talker in 2013?
A I'm preoccupied with baseball. The Yankees and the Red Sox may be fighting for last place in the AL East. That may be a seismic shift -- but I don't think your Twinkies are going to benefit.
Q Do you think that will be detrimental?
A I think it's good for the sport and I say that as a Yankees fan. Actually, the stuff I'd like to see as big stories probably won't be.
Q Such as?
A I wish we'd take a hard look at how the NCAA exploits their kids and nobody cares. Everybody is up in arms about how [Mike] Shanahan is treating Robert Griffin, but college coaches are doing it all the time. They're adding two games to the schedule, and no one seems to care. It's mind-numbing. As leagues have more and more power on TV, you never hear a discouraging word.
Q You worked for the NFL Network as a play-by-play announcer for a couple of years. Any regrets?
A No, not at all. It was probably not my best work, but that's fine.
Q What could you have done better?
A I don't think I have the rah-rah factor that's wanted or expected. I don't fall down and worship athletes at sporting events. But there's no bitterness.
Q The most natural broadcasters of our generation are you and Bob Costas. Is it just a coincidence that you both come from a sports background?
A Thank you. This is something I dealt with when I made the transition from sports to news with great uproar. I always thought sports was a great training ground because you have to think on your feet and make sense of something that's somewhat complex in a limited time frame.
Q Plus, you have to deal with athletes, who may be the most difficult subjects in the world.
A I tell my wife, and she's not a sports fan, that models are the equivalent of athletes. For a while, everyone beats a path to their door and treats them special. They soon realize they don't need to be nice to get what they want. But just like beauty, athletic skills fade and then they don't know how to conduct themselves.
Q For years, you've said you're not interested in returning to daily television. Have you changed your mind?
A I don't know how to answer that question. People have asked. I have considered it, but have not jumped. I certainly don't want to do a show where people are yelling at each other. If I could find a way to engage people in discussion without that, I might be interested. On the other hand, I'm down in Florida right now. It's 78 degrees and I've already walked the dogs and played golf yesterday. It's nice. Someone could say, "Oh, you lazy bastard." It's certainly a younger person's game. I was talking to Matt [Lauer] the other day, and I told him I could not do his job anymore, where people and staff can reach you 24/7. I'd go crazy. You have to be incredibly hungry or you're cheating yourself and your audience.
Q Speaking of Matt, what does NBC have to do to put "Today" back on top?
A It's a long haul. I always said "Today" is such a big ship, that if you want to go left, it would take three months before you could start to turn. These things tend to be cyclical. NBC was on top for a long time and now it seems to be ABC's turn. But I've been gone a long time. I'm probably the last person to ask.
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