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20 Years With(out) “Interruption”: Celebrate Two Decades Of “PTI” Officially Today

Meet two behind-the-scenes staffers, producer Matt Ouano and director Tom Howard, who have been part of the innovative ESPN show's odyssey since 2001

Producer Matt Ouano (L) and director Tom Howard are two brains behind PTI for each of the past 20 years. (ESPN)

EDITOR’S NOTE: ESPN recently celebrated PTI’s 20-year milestone with an E:60 documentary special and a four-part ESPN Daily podcast special series hosted by Pablo Torre [5 Good Questions with Pablo]. Today, PTI will give a nod of its own to the anniversary (5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Pardon The Interruption officially debuted 20 years ago today, and if there’s one thing the pioneering sports debate show is known for, it is consistency. Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon have co-hosted together for two decades and behind the camera a core group of six staffers (see sidebar) have been with the show since 2001, including veteran director Tom Howard.

A Des Moines, Iowa, native and Iowa State alum, Howard has worked in film and video commercials, documentaries, live sports, and on start-up projects for various cable networks. He has directed a number of ESPN shows – Highly Questionable, Greeny, Bart & Hahn and Debatable, and, at one time, he was even an art director for a web design company.

Now a seven-year ESPN employee, Howard began directing PTI as a contractor in 2001. In the Q&A below, he discusses the show’s longevity, his favorite moment, and more.

What do you remember most from that first year of PTI in 2001?
A whole bunch of people from various backgrounds were thrown into this mix. Nobody really knew each other, with very few exceptions, and we all had to come together and make the show work. It was truly a team effort and, at times, a struggle, but it did gel as we went along.

What’s your favorite memory from working on the show?
[Executive producer] Erik [Rydholm] came to me one day and said, [coordinating producer] Matt Kelliher has an idea for a new game, “What’s the Word?” but they didn’t really know how they wanted it executed. He essentially turned that part over to me.

So I came up with a mix of Jeopardy and Password, ran it by Erik, and “What’s The Word?” was born – and it remains a staple of our show. There were so many game ideas at the time, and all of them were fun to work on.

Is there something unique about directing PTI compared to other shows, in terms of capturing the interaction between Kornheiser and Wilbon?
Unlike so many talking head shows, the energy and banter between the two, especially when on set together, is like a sporting event. You don’t know what’s going to happen because it’s unscripted for the most part. Learning the guys’ personalities, knowing what’s going to trigger a reaction, and catching it as it happens make cutting the show fun and fast-paced.

What are you most proud of in terms of PTI’s success?
Our three Emmys, and the fact that a show that wasn’t given a chance has lasted 20 years and is still the top-rated daily studio production on the network.

MORE OF PTI'S TWENTY-YEAR VETS

Original PTI staffer Matt Ouano, now a producer, started working on the show in 2001 as a production assistant in Bristol, Conn., responsible for pulling video elements. In the video above, Ouano discusses the evolution of PTI over two decades.

In all, these six members of the Washington, D.C.-based PTI staff have been with the show all 20 years:

  • Bonnie Berko, Assistant Director
  • Tom Howard, Director
  • Matt Kelliher, Coordinating Producer
  • Frankie Nation, Producer
  • Matt Ouano, Producer
  • Erik Rydholm, Executive Producer

Dan Lindberg and E:60 produced the Ouano interview video.

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