×

UCLA Basketball Follows Showbiz Script

Normally, the firing of a basketball coach — even one in Los Angeles — wouldn’t really be a Hollywood story. But UCLA has chosen to dump Ben Howland for a reason that has cost many a showbiz exec his or her job: Lousy boxoffice.

In the full-disclosure department, I write this as a UCLA alumnus, life-long fan and season-ticket holder. Yet the drumbeat surrounding Howland has been fueled not only by a disappointing record but a failure to put asses in seats, after the university raised and spent roughly $140 million to renovate its storied arena, Pauley Pavilion.

Setting aside Howland’s merits as a coach, the reason that’s noteworthy is because by that criteria, the deck was stacked against him from the get-go. Thanks to a new TV deal, a number of Pac-12 games started at 6 p.m. PT, making it difficult for the Bruin faithful to make tipoff. In one game, for example, the ESPN announcers referenced the poor crowd showing, without making any mention of their role in setting the time or the difficulties getting anywhere in L.A. around rush hour.

At the same time, practically every game is televised (although some were blacked out for DirecTV subscribers, since the satcaster didn’t pick up the Pac-12 Network), reducing the incentive to attend in person. Moreover, ticket prices were jacked up for the new arena, while unemployment in California continues to run ahead of the national average. Add those factors to the “Why not just watch at home” calculus.

Finally, Los Angeles offers far more distractions and alternatives for the entertainment buck than a number of the smaller markets that are home to traditional basketball powers. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to excite local fans if the team’s winning, but it does add to the sense UCLA or USC — unlike, say, Illinois or Kentucky — aren’t the only game in town, particularly with the Clippers suddenly looking like a playoff contender.

Like movie executives, nobody needs to shed any tears for Howland or host any bake sales on his behalf. He’ll leave with a fat buyout package, and these jobs — while high-profile and subject to intense scrutiny — tend to be a revolving door, either into other coaching positions or the broadcast booth.

Still, I can’t help but think about the movie “Network,” and the notion of Howard Beale getting killed over lousy ratings.

Like all of major sports now, UCLA danced to TV’s tune, then turned around and complained when the boxoffice results suffered because of those mercenary priorities — “mercenary” also being a fair description of the “one and done” players who fleetingly pass through programs en route to the NBA, seriously diluting the quality of the college game.

The next coach might find a way to gracefully navigate that daunting high-wire act, but all I can say is, “Good luck with that.”

More TV

  • Nick Offerman Amy Poehler

    'Parks and Recreation' Cast Talks Possibility of a Revival at 10th Anniversary Reunion

    For one night, Hollywood felt a little like Pawnee. The cast of NBC’s hit comedy “Parks and Recreation” reunited at PaleyFest on Thursday in honor of the show’s 10th anniversary. The whole Pawnee gang showed up: Amy Poehler, Chris Pratt, Aubrey Plaza, Nick Offerman, Aziz Ansari, Rob Lowe, Adam Scott, Rashida Jones, Retta, and Jim [...]

  • "Raven's Home" Executive Producer, Eunetta Boone.

    Bob Greenblatt Pays Tribute to Eunetta Boone: 'Love Just Radiated From Her'

    Eunetta T. Boone was funny, sharp and extremely warm-hearted. That’s how WarnerMedia Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt remembered Boone as he paid tribute to the showrunner who died Wednesday at the age of 63. Greenblatt worked with Boone in the early 2000s when he was partnered with David Janollari in the Greenblatt-Janollari Studio production venture. Greenblatt-Janollari [...]

  • Writer-Director Dominik Moll on Series Mania

    Writer-Director Dominik Moll on Series Mania Competition Contender ‘Eden’

    LILLE, France — “I must down to the seas again,” Amaré, an teen African illegal immigrant, reads aloud in a poetry lesson at a refugee center near the beach in Greece. Thoughts of wander-lust seen comically out of place. Amaré has just been seen in the prolog to “Eden” leaping out of a dinghy beaching [...]

  • John Simm Talks ‘Cold Courage' as

    John Simm Talks 'Cold Courage' as Lionsgate Boards International Drama (EXCLUSIVE)

    John Simm plays a rabble-rousing populist politician in “Cold Courage,” and Lionsgate has stepped up and taken international rights to the series. Based on the series of novels by Pekka Hiltunen, the drama is billed as the biggest yet out of Finland and will bow on the Viaplay streaming service in Scandinavia. With a cast [...]

  • "Raven's Home" Executive Producer, Eunetta Boone.

    Eunetta Boone, Showrunner and Creator of 'One on One,' Dies at 63

    Writer-producer Eunetta Boone, creator of the UPN comedy “One on One” and showrunner of Disney Channel’s “Raven’s Home,” died Wednesday at her home in Los Angeles. She was 63. Boone was found dead at her home of an apparent heart attack. Boone had most recently worked as showrunner on the third season of the Disney [...]

  • Global Sales for ‘Les Miserables’ Series

    Global Sales for ‘Les Miserables’ Starring Dominic West Ahead of Series Mania

    The BBC and Masterpiece adaptation of “Les Miserables” will play on a numerous international channels after a raft of deals were sealed for the series, which features Dominic West, David Oyelowo, and Lily Collins. Andrew Davies’ adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic has been acquired by broadcasters in Scandinavia and southern Europe, and by several buyers [...]

  • Kevin Hart

    TV News Roundup: Kevin Hart Netflix Comedy Special Drops First Trailer

    In today’s roundup, Netflix releases the official trailer for the comedy special “Kevin Hart: Irresponsible” and Josh Charles joins Showtime’s Roger Ailes series “The Loudest Voice.” DATES Season two of “Yellowstone,” starring Kevin Costner, will premiere on Paramount Network on June 19 at 10 p.m. ET/PT. The sophomore season will continue the story of rancher John Dutton [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content