Press Release

Posted by Jay Jay Nesheim on May 8, 2012

ESPN First Take Gets a Fresh Format with an Increased Role for Stephen A. Smith

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Show to Relaunch with Focus on Debates between Featured Commentators Stephen A. and Skip Bayless

ESPN2’s two-hour weekday morning live debate show, ESPN First Take, will get a new look on Monday, June 4 as Stephen A. Smith joins the show fulltime in a key role five days a week.  Smith, who now also hosts the daily radio program Stephen A. Smith and Ryan Ruocco (1-3 p.m. ET) on ESPN Radio in New York and will serve as a major contributor to SportsCenter year-round, has long been a frequent guest on ESPN First Take. He will now join Skip Bayless as a featured commentator at the debate desk, with the first hour of the program focusing on their one-on-one discussion of the day’s sports headlines.  The second hour of each show will feature guest analysts, current and former athletes, and occasionally celebrities who will bring their sports opinions to the table.  Host Jay Crawford will continue to moderate the debate topics and offer insight during both hours of the program.

“We tweaked the show format last year to focus more on debate and specifically on presenting and challenging Skip’s opinions and we saw our viewers respond to that change,” said Jamie Horowitz, ESPN’s vice president of original programming and production. “Given the response we’ve seen on social platforms like Twitter and Facebook, we dug a bit deeper into the ratings data and know that the riveting combination of Stephen A. and Skip debating their views resonates with our viewers.  Our plan with this relaunch is to give them even more of the show elements they like best.”

This move is designed to capitalize on the ratings success that ESPN First Take has seen in 2012 with year-to-date ratings up 34% among all viewers.  When comparing year-over-year second quarter ratings, ESPN First Take is up 58% over Q2 2011 and is up even more among the coveted male 18-34 demographic with a 63% quarter-over-quarter increase.

“Stephen A. and Skip have both enjoyed long and successful journalism careers and their years of experience enable them to offer compelling opinions on a variety of topics,” Horowitz said.  “They will both passionately defend their positions and while viewers may not always agree with either Skip or Stephen A., the response across social media and the data both suggest that they are often entertained by the insightful conversations.”

Additional show elements will change as part of the June 4 relaunch including the set design, graphics and show logo. The show airs from 10 a.m. to noon ET on ESPN2, with a highlight show Best of First Take airing daily at 3:30 p.m., depending on live sports programming.

Smith joined ESPN in 2003 as an NBA analyst.  He made a variety of contributions to ESPN from 2003-08 with regular appearances on ESPN First Take, SportsCenter, ESPNEWS and as guest host of Pardon the Interruption. Smith hosted The Stephen A. Smith Show on ESPN Radio from 2005-08 and was also the host of ESPN2’s Quite Frankly with Stephen A. Smith from 2005-07.  Smith currently hosts the show Stephen A. Smith and Ryan Ruocco on ESPN Radio in New York and is a contributing ESPN.com columnist. Previously, Smith held several positions including a 16-year stint as a general sports columnist with the Philadelphia Inquirer (1994-2010).

Skip Bayless joined ESPN in 2004 as a writer for ESPN.com and a commentator on Cold Pizza, ESPN2’s former weekday morning show.  In May 2007, the show moved from New York to ESPN’s headquarters in Bristol, Conn., and was rechristened ESPN First Take.  Bayless previously worked as a columnist in Dallas, Chicago and San Jose for more than 20 years. Bayless was voted “Texas Sportswriter of the Year” three times during his tenure in Dallas, and was voted “Illinois Sportswriter of the Year” while at the Chicago Tribune.  He was also a sportswriter in Miami and Los Angeles.  Bayless is the author of three books chronicling three Dallas Cowboys eras.

Fans can follow ESPN First Take on Facebook (facebook.com/firsttake) and Twitter @ESPN_FirstTake, @RealSkipBayless and @StephenASmith.

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Media contact: 

Jay Jay Nesheim, 646-547-5839 or jayjay.nesheim@espn.com