'First Take' Talks Up Move to ESPN

ESPN will add sports talk/debate show First Take to its daytime lineup of sports news and information beginning Jan. 3. The hard-nosed and sometimes controversial sports debate show currently airing on ESPN2 is co-hosted by Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman – who joined the show in September after the departure of the show's longtime co-host Skip Bayless to Fox Sports.

First Take producer Dave Roberts recently spoke to Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead about the show’s impending move to ESPN. Roberts, who also serves as vice president of ESPN Audio network content, also discussed the show’s future on-air plans and addressed competition within the sports talk arena during the interview, an edited version of which appears below.

Multichannel News: How has the show evolved since the departure of Skip Bayless and the introduction of Max Kellerman, and will the roles of the current on-air hosts change at all going forward?

Dave Roberts: You know Stephen A. Smith and Max will debate and discuss the primary topics of the day, and Molly Qerim will continue to develop in her role as a strong moderator of the program. When you have talent the caliber of Steven A. and you put him along with Max Kellerman – who by the way moved from another successful franchise called Sports Nation -- you have the making of a pretty strong team. We know that the chemistry development that was once in place with Stephen A Smith and Skip will not be replicated, but [Smith and Kellerman] have a great deal of respect for each other that makes it easy to help create that sense of team that the audience will continue to enjoy. So with the three of them we will be relentless in making sure that we have topics that everyone is interested in, and we will not be afraid to deal with the most controversial of topics. That has been the hallmark of this program and will continue to be so.

MCN: How big is the move from ESPN2 to ESPN for the show?

DR: The timing of it is perfect because we're getting ready to go into this season where we're talking about the college football playoffs, and we're going to be onsite for that. We're going to be onsite for Super Bowl week in Houston, the NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans and as well as onsite for the NFL draft in Philadelphia. Those kinds of major events present a huge opportunity to expose First Take to an even larger audience watching on ESPN. It's an opportunity that fortunately we're in a position to take advantage of.

MCN: Will there be any tweaks on the set or within the program that viewers should look forward to?

DR: There will be a few tweaks. Final Take is one of the things that we've already done by adding a segment at the end of the show where the talent will offer up a final take or commentary on a topic of their choice. Stephen A. Smith has kicked it off, and eventually you'll hear from Max and you'll hear even from Molly. But the most important focus for me will be the actual content, and by that I mean how we decide the topics that we're going to discuss and to make sure that everyone has a voice in what those topics will be each and every day.

MCN: Are you concerned about increased competition from Fox Sports as they delve more into the sports talk arena?

DR: We'll always be respectful of our competition no matter who they are. But the key is we will not overreact to anything that our competition does because that's a recipe for failure as far as I'm concerned. Our position is that we're operating from a position of strength. We will not be complacent; we will maintain a position of leadership internally so that we can lead going forward.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.