SBD/May 8, 2012/Media

Skip To My Lou: ESPN Increases Role Of Stephen A. Smith On "First Take"

Smith will be joining ESPN's "First Take" on full-time basis next month
ESPN today announced Stephen A. Smith will join "First Take" fulltime on June 4 as a featured commentator on the debate desk opposite Skip Bayless. The first hour of the show will focus on their one-on-one discussion, while the second hour will feature guest analysts, athletes and celebrities. Host Jay Crawford will continue to moderate the debates between Bayless and Smith. "First Take" has seen a ratings jump in '12, with the year-to-date ratings up 34% among all viewers. When comparing year-over-year Q2 ratings, the show is up 58% over '11 (ESPN).

WHAT'S OLD IS NEW: In L.A., Steven Zeitchik reports the idea is for the show to “become a full-on ‘Crossfire.’” ESPN VP/Original Programing & Production Jamie Horowitz said, “Some viewers genuinely hate Skip and Stephen A. But they also watch them.” Show producer Richelle Markazene said, “They know how to push each other’s buttons so much that sometimes we don’t even know what directions they’re going to go off in. Then it’s a question of, ‘OK, do we let them go or do we rein them in?’” Zeitchik notes whether the new format "will allow the pair to turn their notoriety into fame remains to be seen; others have failed at the same game." However, Bayless and Smith contend their "willingness to touch the third rail of sports topics distinguishes their coverage” (L.A. TIMES, 5/8). USA TODAY’s Michael McCarthy noted Smith in recent weeks had been "appearing more often in the debate chair opposite Bayless.” Smith and Bayless “already have their shtick down, with Bayless leaping out of his chair at the camera to make a point and Smith declaring he doesn’t want to talk to Bayless any more while pretending to read the paper and sip coffee” (, 5/1). The pair several years ago brought their differing perspectives to a "SportsCenter" debate segment called "Old School/Nu Skool" (THE DAILY). 
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