Will Wilbon’s $8-Million TV Deal Make Him a Stranger at the Post?

By: Harry Jaffe

After Mike Wilbon cut his new four-year deal with Disney for just under $8 million—which will pump up his presence on Disney-owned ESPN and ABC—he approached Washington Post chairman Don Graham and executive editor Len Downie and offered to resign as Post sports columnist.

“I don’t know if you want me in this capacity,” he told them.

Both said they wanted to keep their star sportswriter in the Post fold. But there might less of Wilbon on the sports pages, and more of him on the washingtonpost.com site.

Says Wilbon: “I might write columns for the Web. I might have a blog. I might do something with Tony [Kornheiser] on the Web. I’ll do whatever Don Graham and Len Downie want me to do. ESPN did not create the Wilbon-and-Kornheiser brand. The Post did.”

But that brand is certainly getting a lot bigger on television. Wilbon and Kornheiser have been co-hosting Pardon the Interruption, ESPN’s popular talk show, for five years. Under his new contract, Wilbon will appear with Dan Patrick and Mark Jackson on ABC’s studio team broadcasting NBA games. He’ll also do analysis of some NFL games.

Post sports editor Emilio Garcia-Ruiz says Wilbon’s relationship with the Post will not change, but there’s no question he will have less presence in the newspaper.

“I never had a set number on my columns,” Wilbon says. “But the number of columns in the ­ Post will be reduced. I’m not going to write two to three a week.”

The Post has a stable of steady sportswriters, including Tom Boswell, Mike Wise, and Sally Jenkins. But Wilbon’s move to more TV might make room for another. Les Carpenter on basketball? Liz Clark on NASCAR? Dave Sheinin on baseball? Mark Maske on the NFL?

Wilbon is not giving up his turf.

“I’m still a sportswriter on TV. That’s my calling.”

Wilbon’s partner, Kornheiser, has agreed to take his radio show to WTWP, the Washington Post’s local radio station, which has anemic ratings. Kornheiser is best on radio. The medium allows his fertile and often funny mind to free associate between Bill Parcells and Billy Joel. His mug doesn’t interfere with his wit.

Kornheiser gives up plenty to go with the home radio team—probably money, certainly reach, unless he can somehow partner with ESPN.