Skip Bayless' Polarizing Commentary Helps Boost Audience For ESPN2's "First Take"
ESPN2 "First Take" commentator Skip Bayless is the "most polarizing figure in sports journalism ... lobbing grenades and hurling insults without a second thought," according to a profile by Thomas Golianopoulos of the N.Y. OBSERVER. SI's Richard Deitsch said of Bayless, "Do I think he intends to be polarizing? Of course I do." Deitsch added Bayless is a "self-proclaimed television truth-teller simply pushing his own brand of dime-store demagoguery. ... People tell me he’s a nice guy off the air. If so, that’s even more disappointing, because few in sports television come off more loathsome on the screen." ESPN's Stephen A. Smith said, "I'm one of his critics, and I'm one of his best friends. But even in the process of disagreeing with him, I will vouch for him as a man. His character is impeccable. He’s just crazy in terms of some of the things he thinks.” Bayless said of his image, "It's not an act. It’s not a character. It’s the real me. I’m not a shock jock. I never ambush anybody. I just speak my mind and my heart and my soul." ESPN VP/Original Programming & Production Jamie Horowitz in August "took the helm of 'First Take'" and changed the format to "two hours of live debate centered" around Bayless. Horowitz said, "I looked at research, and the brand that resonated most for our fans was debate." The program's numbers "are up 33 percent from last year and the show’s top 10-best-rated telecasts have all aired since August" (N.Y. OBSERVER, 3/21 issue).