Jemele Hill and Michael Schur have joined forces with John Skipper and Dan Le Batard at Meadowlark aboard a pirate ship rapidly ramping up its artillery. The addition of the duo as creative advisors further telegraphs some of the directions the young venture could veer as it grows.
Schur, a longtime friend of Le Batard's radio show family who wrote one of the more incisive explorations of its unique universe back in 2018, is one of the best comedy minds of his generation having written for Saturday Night Live and The Office before creating Parks and Recreation and The Good Place.
Hill rose to the upper-echelons of ESPN with an outspoken courage that ultimately hastened her departure and has used her post-Bristol time to build dynamic enterprises including a production company. Landing at Meadowlark to reunite with Skipper has been the subject of speculation in recent weeks, largely because the idea makes so much sense.
Schur and Hill join Hank Azaria, who is reprising his Brockmire character for a 10-episode podcast, at the company. It's becoming clear that there's a premium being placed—at least in the early goings— on creatives who can create ideas out of whole cloth.
In public conversations with Le Batard, Skipper has laid out the vision for Meadowlark:
"I've been asked if this was a venture or an adventure and I believe it is, in fact, both," Skipper said. "If we want to simply describe what we're doing, we're forming a company. That company's going to be focused — at least initially — on sports content. That company is called Meadowlark. What we're going to do across all genres of sports (is) try to create best-in-class content. Whether that be your radio show, the Le Batard & Friends podcast, Highly Questionable television show. Could be scripted and unscripted, reality or dramatic, or comedic episodic content. (It) could be documentaries, could be feature stories, could be books. We want wherever great stories are, we want to tell them in a multitude of genres.
"We are not, however, going to publish them on a platform that's called Meadowlark. What we want to do is to sell them to third parties. In doing so, and in creating a pipeline of those projects, executing them, selling them, we want to become known as the supplier of choice. The standard-bearer for what it means to create sports content."
While so much of the coverage following Le Batard's exit from ESPN centered around the landing place for his former terrestrial radio show, anyone following the day-to-day has understood that while that may be the flagship property, Meadowlark is interested in building an armada capable of competing with the major players.
These two additions make it clear that the company has both the ability to attract big names and isn't afraid of big goals. Attaching Hill's name or Schur's name to a project is going to give it far more gravitas and drum up far more interest than a replacement manager. With the future of entertainment accelerating at a rapid pace toward all things streaming, there will be a great rush for inventory, yes, but that will only make the highest-quality offerings stand out more.
With the caveat that additional hires in the coming days will further fill out the vision for outsiders, it's clear to me that the scripted opportunities Skipper alluded to are potentially greater than I previously realized. Schur, Hill, and Azaria all have experience in this area and two of the three are tightly linked to some of the more successful comedy programs of the last three decades.
Editorially, there's a connection with the radio show known only to the more avid listeners. Some of the show's best moments over the past year have come via fictional characters created as a comedic device. The Tim Jerns and Shane Backalata bits have been uproarious and indicative of existing capability for what is essentially a looser scripted comedy bit given some space to play.
It's really exciting to consider the possibility of creating larger worlds for characters who may have been born within the universe or ones that get caught up in its universe. It's also worth wondering who else friendly with the show from the entertainment space might be next. There's a sneakily large Rolodex of people who have already engaged artistically with Le Batard — from Neal Brennan to Adam McKay to Bill Lawrence.
Perhaps there's some overthinking there. But with each new addition, there's a different light hitting the sea ahead. And people watching can begin to make more informed guesses about which course the ship will set.