We know that Pickleball – the game founded on our little island – has gone global in the past year or so, and has been the subject of numerous stories appearing in high-brow publications like The New Yorker, and, er, slightly more pedestrian tomes like Sports Illustrated and the New York Times.
But now the sport – played by hundreds on the island and – dare we say millions – around the world – is gaining true celebrity status. Stephen Colbert, the comedian and host of The Late Night on CBS, is broadcasting a celebrity pickleball tournament slated to air from 9 p.m.-11 p.m. on Thursday Nov. 17th. on CBS, (KIRO, Channel 7 on our dial).
In “Pickled,” according to Variety Magazine, Colbert joins with sportscasters Bill Raftery and Cari Champion to comment on pickleball antics featuring everyone from Sugar Ray Leonard to Will Ferrell and Emma Watson. Colbert, who began playing the racket sport in January, told Variety that the rivalries in the taped tournament are intense: “You don’t get to be fully employed in Hollywood unless you are competitive, and these people are out for blood at all times.”
So too are the networks that might air such programs, notes Variety, the bible of the entertainment industry. “In an era when more people are turning to streaming, sports is the one category that seems able to lure the masses to linear TV. The trouble? Sports rights fees have grown from exorbitant to stratospheric, and many traditional media companies are pushing themselves to the financial edge to keep live games on their screens,” the magazine explains.
Meanwhile, Pickleball has been on the verge of becoming something of a national pastime. More than 4.8 million people in the U.S. play the sport, growing 39.3% over the past two years, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association.
Its appeal, says Colbert, comes from the fact that anyone can play. “You really get the sense that the best pickleball player in the world is only about twice as good as the worst pickleball player,” he told Variety.
Participants in “Pickled” took the charity contest seriously. “I think Emma Watson is going to surprise a lot of people,” teases Colbert. “Dierks Bentley is going to have a few tricks up his sleeve.”
Even Colbert learned a few lessons from “Pickled.” When he does a live broadcast of CBS’ “The Late Show,” he basically knows where the program is supposed to go, he says in Variety. But with sports, no one can predict where the action might take the crowd. “It is extraordinarily complex and challenging,” he says. “There are so many elements, so many cameras.”
The comedian was recently on the cover of In Pickleball magazine, and tongue in cheek, was named the Sexiest Man in Pickleball. Because of Colbert’s contributions to the sport, participants in Thursday night’s tourney will compete for the Colbert Cup, according to the web site Vulture. Unfortunately, the site notes, “that name is lazy and completely outshined by the unhinged team names, so we came up with some alternative suggestions for the dill-icious prize: the Bread & Better Than All the Other Players, the Big Dills, the Cuke-est Couple, the Best in Brine, the Antoinette Perry Award, the Kosher Classics, or, simply, the Pickled Pink Award.”
Perhaps it’s all worth it, adds Variety. Both Colbert and Farrell of Funny or Die say they are open to doing more events like this, possibly tying the tournaments to holidays or special causes. As long as sports programming is in such demand, the two may just have to keep on swinging.
For now, though, let’s enjoy what’s bound to be a fun and rousing send up of our favorite island sport Thursday night. Note to self, don’t get Pickled!