The mention of “Billions” and big time sports are pretty synonymous these days, but Showtime, a network that has been known for some unique sports content over the years, will deal with “Billions” of a kinda different sort when their new series starring Paul Giamatti and Damian Lewis debuts this Sunday. The series is all about the testosterone driven world of Wall Street and the drama that goes on with some of its biggest players on either side of the law.
Created by the screenwriting team of Brian Koppelman and David Levien — who wrote Oceans Thirteen, among other shows that have resonated well with thrill-loving sports fans — along with New York Times financial columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin, the show will hit home not just with the drama-loving financial community but also with a deal and analytic-loving sports community. Consumers will probably see more than a few references and anecdotes, and maybe a few cameos over time, to the fast paced business world of sports as the series plays out.
The debut episode is not short on those type of references, as Bobby Axelrod, Lewis’ hedge fund mogul character, drops in on his son’s biddy hoops game while putting together a bit of a shady deal with some associates, while Giamatti, the son of late MLB Commissioner Bart Giamatti, drops a baseball reference or two. The cast also has a tie to tennis, with Mrs. Patrick McEnroe, Melissa Errico, in the mix in episode one as well.
The references and sports business moments should be well placed, especially with Koppelman as a key part of the creative team. In addition to the already mentioned work, he was writer and producer of “Rounders,” a film mentioned by a host of athletes and execs as one of their favorites, and co-created the ESPN “30 For 30,” film “This Is What They Want,” which looked at the improbable run of Jimmy Connors at the 1991 U.S. Open and how he became a polarizing and provocative personality who helped make tennis a high-octane spectator sport. He was also a key contributor and essayist at Grantland before its demise, and hosted a weekly podcast, The Moment, on ESPN Radio, which has now moved to Slate.com, and mixes in some amazing guests from the entertainment world with a fair share of sports talk.
The Long Island native and Tufts University and Fordham University Law School grad is also a passionate, and pretty vocal fan of the Knicks, Jets and Yankees, especially the Knickerbockers. The fandom in his household also extends to at least his son Sam, a student at Harvard and writer for The Crimson, who penned a piece at the end of December on the issue with concussions in football, questioning the value proposition the sport has in Cambridge for their student-athletes.
With all that as a backdrop on the eve of the official debut of Billions, we grabbed Brian Koppelman for a few minutes to ask him about podcasting, the Knicks and what might be in store for fans tuning in to Billions.
Your podcasts have become quite a calling card. Are you surprised how audio has evolved as a storytelling medium and how valuable do you think podcasting will continue to become?
I love podcasting. Came to it because I love listening to podcasts. And having the kinds of conversations, the kinds of intimate, open, honest conversations that seem to be at the heart of the medium. I never think about podcasting as a real business. So I can’t answer the last part.
You are quite vocal about your devotion to the Knicks, from a business perspective why do you think the brand stays so strong?
I don’t think you can separate the emotional hold The Knicks have had on this city of New York from the business. Yes, there are objective reasons that the franchise is financially valuable–the league itself, TV deals, largest media market, etc–but the connection the team made with the denizens of the city, especially during the late 60s and early 70s, lingers. Phil Jackson is doing everything I can think of to transform the team and the way fans think about the team. He’s got a difficult job because of the owners. But, to me, is handing it incredibly well.
Your projects, from “Rounders” to “Billions” are loved especially by guys. Does fandom of sport and entertainment overlap for you when taking on these projects?
As an artist, all of my enthusiasms show up in the work. So of course my love of sports shows up somehow.
Sports and Wall Street mix pretty easily, will we see any mentions or scenes in and about NY in the series, and have any of the teams been helpful with the show?
There is at least one special New York sports cameo in the first season of Billions.
There are more scripted shows being produced today than ever before. Do you see the well drying up at all, or will all the new unplugged platforms continue to drive content?
The demand for content is unending. The methods for making it continually evolve. I don’t see those facts changing any time soon. I love the drama of both scripted programming and sports, and I see that only growing, with all the platforms out there now.
Who do you read/follow to get your news and information?
I read The New York Times every morning. I read many Twitter feeds. ESPN, Real Clear Politics, Politico, Vox. New York Magazine’s Vulture site, and The New Yorker.
Will Bobby Axelrod be seen center court or behind home plate at all?
Not this season. But you can bet, if he goes to a game, he’s sitting wherever the fuck he wants.