Tables Turned: Gimblestob Provides Answers About Asking Questions
Season three of “World of Tennis Presented by BNP Paribas” debuts December 5 on Tennis Channel at 7 p.m. Each episode will include “Holding Court with Justin Gimblestob,” an in depth interview with a tennis player or a celebrity who is a fan of the game. To preview season three, StarGames turned the tables on Gimblestob and had him answer our questions:
StarGames: Season three of World of Tennis Presented by BNP Paribas is about to get underway. What’s your role on the show?
Justin Gimelstob: I host the segment Holding Court with Justin Gimelstob and also I do some takes with my opinion on certain hot topics on the sport of tennis. The idea really came about when Jerry Solomon and I were discussing the lack of in-depth interviews anymore. You see so much of the fad is the short quick sound bite type interviews and you don’t have the opportunity to dig deeper and see what makes the players really tick, delve into their personal lives and the how and why of what has made them so great and the challenges they face.
Tennis is such a personal sport you get such a connection by watching these athletes for so long throughout the year and throughout their careers. There are people who are watching care about the athletes and really want to know what makes these players tick.
When you get to talk to (Jimmy) Connors about his growing up without a father, his relationship with his mother and his grandmother. His dynamic with (John) McEnroe and (Bjorn) Borg and (Ivan) Lendl. Coaching Andy Roddick and all these generations and all the things he’s been through in the sport and to see his perspective on how the sport has evolved.
Or speak to an athlete like Lindsey Vonn and hear about why someone is best in the world at what she does, probably the best ever, why she loves the sport so much and how it relates to skiing.
Or when you talk to someone like Boris Becker and hear their personal story of not just things that everyone knows about winning Wimbledon but the damage of being such a child star and the challenges of being in the spotlight and the effects it has post career and finding an enjoyable life after being so so successful so young in tennis and the effect it had on his family and his social life. One of the most personal things I’ve heard in the all interviews was Becker talking about how much it hurt him when his son came home from his 16th birthday party and someone said don’t you realize a year from now your father already won Wimbledon and his son feeling like he was a failure because relative to what his father had achieved.
Personal stories like that and just being able to peel back the layers and really hear and learn what makes incredible athletes tick has just been a really enjoyable process and something that’s real and has been a vacuum for not just in tennis but in all sports.
SG: You’ve tipped off a few of the people we’ll see in season 3. Wh0 are some of the previous guests you’ve had and things you’ve learned from them?
Gimelstob: Hearing from (Maria) Sharapova about the work she does for Chernobyl and how that has affected her and what makes her tick. You see this very intense athlete on the court but also hearing about some of the things she enjoys off the court, her personal life and her charity work.
Andy Roddick and I have a good relationship and just hearing and seeing how charismatic he is, the things he is passionate about and his dynamics with his personal life and his wife and the challenges of having two stars in one household. Also his foundation work and his goals for the future and his hopes for what he would like to do post-tennis.
Last year he got to spend time with Randy Jackson, someone to titan in their industry and why they love the sport of tennis.
Last year we got to spend time with John Isner and Tommy Hass. If we look at Tommy Haas last year when I interviewed him and what he came back from and what he accomplished. If you look at that interview from last year you can really see the passion and his commitment to coming back. It was almost foreshowing what happened this year.
It’s a real opportunity to spend time with the most accomplished players of this generations and past generations and just see how they are similar and how they are different and peeling back the layers and learning how they are different not just professionally but personally.
SG: Someone like Charlie Rose or Piers Morgan are professional journalist and have a background for doing these types of interviews. This is different role for you. You were a born and raised tennis player. How hard has it been to grow into a long form interviewer.
Gimelstob: When I retired from playing I went into broadcasting the same way I went into playing, just trying to surround myself with good people. People that could advise me, that I could learn from. I owe a lot of credit to someone like Jerry Solomon and Jennie Silverstein, who is the producer of the show, helping me mature, learn and develop. Also the people at Tennis Channel, like Bob Whyley, Larry Myers and Ken Solomon, guys like that. Even mentors that I’ve worked with in broadcasting, like Bill Macatee, Ted Robinson, Lief Shiras, the late Barry MacKay, Dick Enberg.
I once sat next to Dick Enberg on a flight to Australia. It was my first trip to Australia working for TV with Tennis Channel. I had his book next to me, my Dad had given me his book on broadcasting. I said, Mr. Enberg, I’m going to bother you until you tell me to stop because there are so many questions I have and I want to learn. I want to surround myself with good people. And he said when asking questions, give yourself the best opportunity for a good answer.
Working for NBC for the Olympics this year sitting next to Bob Costas and Al Michaels and Ted Robinson. I was able to listen and learn and study the art of asking good questions and hosting.
I sat with Roy Firestone at the French Open. I grew up watching his show, one of the original long form interview shows. It’s sad that those have gone away.
I spent time with Charlie Rose, when I covered Andy Murray’s tour after the US Open. I asked Charlie Rose questions and watched him interview Andy Murray.
I’ve really studied this. I’ve watched Piers Morgan and Larry King. This is an area I love. I love telling the story, I love people, I love learning why successful people are successful. Their similarities. Their differences. That’s the number one thing they tell you at the Olympics working for NBC - tell a story, get people emotionally invested. You’re challenging people to reveal something.
One of my best questions for Lindsey Vonn was that she, like a lot of individual sport athletes, had a tumultuous childhood. So I asked her, can you be an individual sport athlete without having a dominant parent or a borderline dysfunctional upbringing where there is bit of pain and hurt. It is painful to be different. To be unique is challenging and how do you do that.
I’ve really studied the art of broadcasting and hosting and interviewing to give myself the best chance of getting good answers. The best way to get good answers is to ask good questions. The best way to ask good questions is do your homework, do your preparation and challenge the person you’re sitting next to to reveal something. I’m very proud of that. Like John Wooden said, it's all based on preparation, giving yourself the opportunity to be successful. That goes into really trying to put yourself into the shoes of the person you’re sitting next to and to challenging them to reveal something unique.
SG: So what is your preparation like for these interviews?
Gimelstob: I’m fortunate in the sport of tennis to have a vast history and an understanding of the subject but also studying results. Obviously information is very accessible now, so just going through information, doing your research. Know your stories. Going through old interviews and see what has already been asked and what people already know or don’t know. Doing homework and huddling with the team from World of Tennis and working on it together. Studying information, results and challenges. Trying to engross yourself in all the information that is out there relevant to the person.
But if I’m interviewing someone like Lindsay Vonn or Randy Jackson, its learning more about them, what makes them tick, their road to success and what’s relevant and comparable in tennis.
One of the best things I learned in broadcasting or interviewing is know your audience. When I do something for the CBS Early Show, the questions will be different because the audience is interested in something different. On Tennis Channel and World Of Tennis the people are tennis savvy so you can do deeper and more technical. If it’s a broader based show you go a little more personal or a little more pop culture. It’s about engrossing yourself in the information and trying to give the viewer the opportunity to learn and emotionally attached to the subject.
SG: You got away from the interview chair last week you were filming an episode of CSI what was that like?
Gimelstob: It’s nice to do different things. Over the course of my five years since I've retired I’ve hosted, I’ve done play-by-play, I’ve been an analyst, I’ve been sideline, I’ve done entertainment, I’ve done red carpets, I’ve done the Tonight Show, the early shows, the late shows, entertainment shows.
This is just totally different. The good part is I was able to play myself, which I’ve been able to do for 35 years with moderate success. It kind of had two different parts. One was the broadcasting of the match, which I tried to put myself in the same scenario as if I was doing sideline at a tennis match.
Once you get into finding the body and a little bit of acting, that’s why I relied on Ted Danson and Elizabeth Shue and the director to get a little feedback. It wasn’t too big of a stretch but it was so unique to live in that world. The amount of takes, the amount different angles, the amount of people around, it’s really an interesting dynamic to see. I’ve been in LA for almost 20 years and around the Hollywood culture but never really been a part of it. I love TV. I love movies. It’s great to see how it’s made and the process.
I’m looking forward to it. I have low expectations. I hope I don’t end up totally on the cutting room floor. At the end of the night, the fact is tennis gets to cross over into pop culture. That’s kind of the concept of this show, we need tennis to cross over into pop culture more. That’s part of why we have a Lindsay Vonn or a Randy Jackson or other people involved in the show. When people look up to athletes, and they see those other athletes love tennis, through the transitive property hopefully it brings more people to the sport. Tennis has so much to offer. That’s really what we’re trying to do, to broaden our fan base. To have tennis involved in CSI, one of the most popular franchises in the history of network television, can only be positive for the sport
SG: You talk about growing the sport and the last episode of season 3 of World of Tennis will preview World Tennis Day on March 4 and the events around the world to grow the sport and promote youth participation. What are your expectations for World Tennis Day and how valuable do you think it is for the sport?
JG: I think it is an incredible initiative. It’s such a positive initiative to have the world focused on tennis that day. There’s so much going on in tennis throughout the year, but to bring that message into focus that day is just incredible. There will be so many fun events going on. Once again we need to spread the word of how good of a sport it is, get more of our best athletes playing it in this country and around the world. To get such significant participation from so many great players, it can only be a positive to spread the word and spread the message of how great this sport is. It’s one of the really unique, exceptional initiatives that have been involved in the sport in a long time.