In the realm of sports television, few shows have left as indelible a mark as ESPN First Take. This daily debate program has become a staple for sports enthusiasts across the globe. With its unique format of fiery debates, spirited discussions, and passionate analysis, ESPN First Take has successfully carved out its niche in the competitive landscape of sports broadcasting.
In this article, we will take an in-depth look at the show’s history, evolution, key elements, notable personalities, controversies, and its enduring popularity. So, whether you’re a long-time fan of the show or just curious about what makes ESPN First Take tick, read on to learn more about this ever-popular TV show.
The Birth of ESPN First Take
Origins of the Show
ESPN First Take was conceived as a follow-up to ESPN2’s “Cold Pizza,” which was a morning sports talk show that aired from 2007 to 2016. Recognizing the potential for a show centered around debate and analysis, ESPN decided to revamp “Cold Pizza” into what we now know as ESPN First Take.
The show initially had hosts Jay Crawford and Dana Jacobson, with origins tied to the precursor show “Cold Pizza.” In August 2011, there was a significant format change, emphasizing lively debates and reducing segments. This led to a 58% increase in ratings in early 2012.
On April 30, 2012, Stephen A. Smith became a permanent member, replacing guest host Rob Parker. In June 2012, Jay Crawford left to anchor SportsCenter.
The show underwent changes in July 2012, introducing a new set, theme song, and slide show. Cari Champion became the permanent moderator on October 1, 2012.
Before Molly Qerim’s appointment, various moderators had been in place. A special episode aired in 2015 following the College Football Playoff National Championship.
In 2016, Max Kellerman replaced Skip Bayless as co-host. On January 3, 2017, the show moved to ESPN, hoping to boost ratings post-Bayless. In September 2018, it relocated to ESPN’s New York studios with a new look.
In 2021, Max Kellerman left, and a new format with rotating guest analysts alongside Stephen A. Smith was introduced, citing a lack of chemistry as the reason for the change.
The Evolution of ESPN First Take
1. Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith
The chemistry between Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith became the driving force behind ESPN First Take’s success. The two hosts had a dynamic and often polarizing on-screen relationship that captivated viewers. Bayless, known for his provocative opinions, and Smith, celebrated for his passionate delivery, brought out the best in each other. Their back-and-forths became legendary, and they helped the show grow its audience exponentially.
2. Format and Structure
One of the unique aspects of ESPN First Take is its format. The show features a lively debate between the hosts and various guests or analysts. Together, they engage in spirited discussions on a wide range of sports-related subjects, delivering passionate and bold opinions on the latest happenings in the sports world. The topics discussed range from the biggest headlines in sports to controversies, matchups, and player performances. This structured format keeps the show engaging and ensures that it remains current and relevant in the ever-changing world of sports.
Key Elements of ESPN First Take
1. The Art of Debate
At the heart of ESPN First Take is the art of debate. Bayless and Smith were the torchbearers for this, engaging in passionate arguments that often led to memorable moments. The show’s success lies in its ability to transform sports discussions into compelling debates that leave viewers with a sense of excitement and anticipation.
2. Star-Studded Guest List
ESPN First Take has hosted a vast array of guests, from athletes and coaches to journalists and celebrities. These guest appearances have added a unique dimension to the show, as viewers get to witness diverse perspectives on sports-related topics. Notable guests have included Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and even political figures like Barack Obama.
Controversies and Memorable Moments
1. The Tebowmania Era
One of the most memorable periods in ESPN First Take’s history was during the “Tebowmania” era. Skip Bayless was a vocal supporter of quarterback Tim Tebow, leading to heated debates with Stephen A. Smith. The Tebow discussions generated considerable controversy and brought the show even more attention.
2. Stephen A. Smith vs. Kevin Durant
In 2015, ESPN First Take made headlines when Stephen A. Smith engaged in a highly publicized feud with NBA superstar Kevin Durant. Durant took exception to Smith’s commentary, and their heated exchange spilled over onto social media. This feud exemplified how the show’s discussions could have real-world consequences.
The Departure of Skip Bayless
In 2016, after nearly a decade of co-hosting ESPN First Take, Skip Bayless announced his departure from the show. This marked a significant turning point for the program, as Bayless had been an integral part of its success. His move to Fox Sports 1 to host “Undisputed” left ESPN First Take with big shoes to fill.
The Post-Bayless Era
1. New Hosts and Dynamic Shifts
Following Skip Bayless’s departure, ESPN First Take underwent a period of transition. New hosts, including Max Kellerman, were introduced. While the dynamic between Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman was different from the iconic Bayless-Smith pairing, the show maintained its core format and continued to thrive.
2. Ratings and Popularity
ESPN First Take managed to retain its popularity despite the change in hosts. The show consistently ranked among the top sports talk programs on television, proving its enduring appeal to sports fans.
The Legacy of ESPN First Take
1. Influence on Sports Debate Shows
ESPN First Take’s success has influenced the landscape of sports debate shows. Its format of intense debate and discussion has been replicated by numerous other programs. The show’s impact on sports journalism and the way fans engage with sports media cannot be understated.
2. A Platform for Diverse Voices
Over the years, ESPN First Take has provided a platform for a diverse range of voices in sports media. It has showcased perspectives from athletes, journalists, and analysts of different backgrounds, contributing to a more inclusive sports conversation.
Criticisms and Controversies
1. Accusations of Sensationalism
Critics of ESPN First Take have accused the show of sensationalism, arguing that it prioritizes dramatic debates over substantive analysis. Some viewers have expressed frustration with the show’s tendency to prioritize entertainment value over serious sports journalism.
2. Handling of Controversial Issues
ESPN First Take has faced criticism for its handling of sensitive and controversial issues, such as discussions around domestic violence, race, and social justice in sports. Critics argue that the show sometimes fails to provide a nuanced perspective on these matters.
ESPN First Take’s journey from its inception to its present-day status as an ever-popular sports debate show is a testament to its enduring appeal. Through controversies, host changes, and evolving formats, the show has remained a staple in the lives of sports enthusiasts.
While it may have its share of critics, ESPN First Take has played a pivotal role in shaping the way sports are discussed in the media. Its fiery debates and passionate discourse have become a hallmark of sports journalism, influencing countless other programs.
As we continue to witness the evolution of ESPN First Take, one thing remains certain: the show’s ability to engage, entertain, and spark debates among sports fans is unlikely to wane anytime soon. Whether you love it or loathe it, ESPN First Take has solidified its place in the annals of sports television, and its impact will be felt for years to come.