TNT takes Barkley yakker to hoop

'Listen Up!' to cover politics, sports, entertainment

HOLLYWOOD — TNT has unwrapped its Charles Barkley talkshow.

The live “Listen Up! Charles Barkley With Ernie Johnson” will debut Oct. 31 from Atlanta at 7 p.m. ET. Weekly Thursday nighter will air some telecasts from remote events; first up is golf’s November Superslam competition.

“Listen Up!” will be followed throughout the NBA season by two games; 2002-03 campaign reps the 19th year that Turner nets have carried basketball.

“After two years with successful NBA coverage, there were obvious avenues that could be taken,” said “Listen Up!” exec producer Mike Pearl. “It made a lot of sense to bring a show like this together.”

“Listen Up!” will cover politics, current events, sports and entertainment. No guests have been booked, but Barkley’s wishlist, read out at a conference call Thursday, includes Bill Clinton, Will Smith, Anna Kournikova and Bernie Mac.

“We’re not going to be a puffy show,” Barkley said. “I’m trying to get a direct response about today’s hot issues. I’m going to say and ask what’s important.”

Barkley’s talker undoubtedly will be compared to “The Magic Hour,” Earvin “Magic” Johnson’s much-hyped 1998 fling with the format that drew critical barbs and was canceled in its first year.

Brand name built

The difference here, presumably, is that TNT has already created a brand name out of Barkley’s irreverent style and controversial comments. Show will build on Barkley’s time spent as a pundit and TV personality, placing him in situations he has become accustomed to since joining the cabler two years ago.

“I never see myself as out of control, and I’m never going to censor myself,” he said. “People like Pat Buchanan can say whatever they want to, so why can’t I?”

Barkley, Johnson and Kenny Smith will continue to anchor the cabler’s “Inside the NBA” pre-game and halftime shows.

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