Greg Gumbel and Ernie Johnson explain how they survive March Madness

By: Nina Mandell
Photo by: Robert Deutsch, USA Today Staff

When Greg Gumbel’s brother, Bryant, worked in morning television he gave him a simple piece of advice: Sleep, Bryant said, is overrated.

Greg, who along with Ernie Johnson has been a constant presence on televisions across America for the last four days, never really bought into that idea. But when it comes to the NCAA tournament, everyone in the studio has to put in incredibly long hours to bring news from all of the games going on from noon to about 2 a.m. “You kind of forget about physical comforts for a while and do what you have to do,” Gumbel said. “And it’s a marathon — it’s a fun marathon.”

Both hosts worked 12 hour days on Thursday and Friday, with six hours each on set and six hours each in the update studio. On Saturday and Sunday, they hosted for around six hours in the studio and also sporadically appeared on the update studio during that time as well.

Johnson said despite the craziness they never lost sight of the fact they’re just talking about basketball. “We’re blessed we’re working in sports, it’s all fun and I never lose the fact there are three billion guys out there who would take my job in a second.”

When the tournament is over, Johnson will have only three days off before his duties on Turner’s NBA shows begin again. He has the research department bring him news and statistics for his daily files that keep him up to date about what’s going on in that league.

“I’ve set up an office at my room at the hotel,” he said.

The interviews, which were conducted separately and have been condensed, are below.

So how are you doing? Are you completely overwhelmed with the world of March Madness yet? Have you slept?

Gumbel: I think that while we are constantly looking for the light at the end of the tunnel, I think that there are a lot of people who both overestimate and underestimate what we do ... I would never want to to bellyache all the hours we put in because we love doing what we do and researchers and producers and directors, they’re there when I get in in the morning and they’re there when I leave at night. It’s a love affair, the people who deal with the tournament.

Johnson: I’m feeling great. Weekends are a bit of a reprieve after the first two days because Greg and I split up the studio so he gets the early shift on Saturday and Sunday. I went out to Brooklyn Diner for some eggs Benedict this morning and then came back in here to watch the games and finish up my prep.

The way I work is I got back Thursday night after the game one in the morning and did about two hours of work just to kind of get a little bit of a head start because you can’t go to sleep right away because you’re kind of wired [...] then went to bed about 3 a.m. and get up about 9:00 or 9:30. If I can get six hours of sleep, I’m good.

On what they’ve eaten in the past 24 hours:

Gumbel: They supply food! I think they had some grilled chicken yesterday with some salad. They had some pasta in there, they had fruit and they had unfortunately the pie, the cookies and the turnovers and the ones who have some willpower avoided those and the rest of us just eat all of the sweets. It’s not ideal, it’s not sitting down in a restaurant but 24 hours, I don’t know if I ever could remember what I ate.

Johnson: No, there have been no vegetables involved. I didn’t eat much at all yesterday, I don’t like to eat when I work. I’ll just nibble a bit. We have a 10-minute break every now and then and I’ll go out there and there’s a little buffet thing set up with snacks and meals come up. I just nibble [on days] when I’m on the air.

On if Charles Barkley has gotten weird on set yet:

Gumbel: I think Charles certainly garners attention because he’s outspoken, he’s a very funny person ... he is what we all are and that is a basketball junkie and a basketball lover and you can’t work on the tournament if you don’t love it.

Johnson: He hasn’t gotten as weird as he has previous years. The first year we did this, we didn’t know what it was like so you’re leaning on Greg [Gumbel] a lot. He he gave us the rundown so the first year but it was new to all of us, it was four networks showing the games ... now it’s here again with all the networks and all the shows you have [deal] with the length of the day — you show up at 11 a.m. and walk out at 1 a.m. — you find yourself hitting a little bit of a wall and then you get re-energized.

How many cups of coffee have you had?

Gumbel: I don’t drink a lot of coffee. I drink coffee in the morning, but I’m not a big coffee drinker. I do it in the morning with breakfast but pretty much leave it alone. I have friends who tell me to drink more water so I’m more focused on trying to stay hydrated.

Johnson: I’m a coffee guy but I don’t think I’ve had a full cup of coffee. I’ll grab one and then I’ll have a few sips of it then go back to work and it’s cold then I’ll throw that away and go back later and get another one. I’ll have several cups in front of me in front of the day. If you feel like your voice is going, you have to have hot tea and honey and plenty of water. It’s just what you’re able to do given the schedule.

What about everyone else?

Gumbel: I do know Clark [Kellogg] is not a coffee drinker, Charles is busy with his diet coke and I don’t ever recall seeing Kenny [Smith] with coffee so maybe coffee, like sleep, is overrated.


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