First Take now featuring more great debate with Skip and the gang

Note: With 2011 winding down, Front Row will use much of this week to look back at some of the most significant stories of the past year. But first, we wanted to check in with First Take’s coordinating producer Jamie Horowitz to discuss the evolution of ESPN2′s daily studio show (10 a.m. ET). There have been subtle changes to First Take in recent weeks and we asked Jamie to explain some of the tweaks.

First Take produced this Skip Bayless mash-up with DJ Steve Porter. It’s the most popular web video in show history with 1.4 million views as of Dec. 26.

Front Row: Jamie, you took over First Take in August and fans have begun to notice some format changes. We’ve seen that 9 of the 10 highest-rated shows in the history of First Take have been in the last three months. As we get ready for the new year, can you tell us a little about the new look of First Take?

Jamie Horowitz: First Take evolved from what was originally our morning show called Cold Pizza and has built an amazing foundation for compelling, evocative television. The show content used to be a mixture of debate, features, interviews and games. We’ve conducted research — both anecdotal and via focus groups — and that information combined with rating analysis suggested fans liked debate best.

Specifically, our focus was on time spent viewing. Research showed that debate was the perfect complement to highlights and analysis fans were also consuming on morning offerings, SportsCenter and Mike & Mike. With that in mind, we recently changed the show format to two hours of debate. Debate would no longer be the best part of the show, it would now be the entire show.

FR: Does this change the rotation of Dana Jacobson and Jay Crawford as co-hosts of First Take?

JH: In the previous format, one host would handle the debate and the other would handle the interviews and features. Now that First Take is all debate, one host makes the most sense for the new format. Dana will be leaving First Take and Jay will remain in that position. Dana has been integral to the development of both Cold Pizza and First Take. She is a talented host and commentator and we know she is looking forward to taking on different roles within the ESPN network.

FR: We’ve noticed an increased role for Skip Bayless, who is always stirring up the topics — not to mention the guests. Will the format focus more on people debating Skip?

JH: In some ways, yes. We are constantly receiving requests for people to come on the show to debate Skip, whether it is other journalists, celebrities, athletes, you name it. Rappers like Lil Wayne (three times), Wale, Fabolous, Nelly, LLCoolJ, Common, Bow Wow and Joe Budden as well as athletes Chris Bosh, Ryan Clark and Chad Ochocinco have come on the show specifically to debate Skip. Tim Tebow called the show a few weeks ago because he wanted to chat with Skip.

There is something about the authenticity of the debate, the rawness, that draws sports enthusiasts and celebrities from all walks of life to want to debate him. Skip has a unique ability to at once inspire and infuriate, all the while attracting viewers. However, we also have talented sports personalities like Jemele Hill, Stephen A. Smith, Rob Parker, Jon Ritchie, Eric Mangini and others who have strong opinions and are able to back them up with knowledge and facts.

FR: Do you worry that Skip can be overly cantankerous?

JH: No, we know that some fans love Skip, and some fans just love to disagree with him. But almost all want to debate him. Skip is a writer by trade. He is a journalist at heart. He just happens to be a gifted debater. He knows that many disagree with him and is okay with it. He is 100 percent authentic. He sincerely believes what he says. To those who routinely disagree with him (we’re talking to you, Charles Barkley) the chair is open. Skip is waiting for you.

FR: What are you most looking forward to as First Take continues to evolve in 2012?

JH: One of the things that resonates with the First Take audience is that the analysts all try to “first guess” events. Skip was seemingly the first (and perhaps only) analyst who responded to the August news from the Broncos that Tebow was the fourth-string quarterback by saying “he should start.” Some experts wanted Tebow cut but Skip insisted he could win in the NFL. We’re excited to follow the Tebow story and see how it evolves.

Similarly, Skip was the first analyst to say LeBron James didn’t have the panache of a champion. Skip was on an island for months but after the NBA Finals last year, many experts started to understand Skip’s reasoning. We’re looking forward to seeing if LeBron can lead the Heat to the title, or if they come up short. Perhaps, as Skip predicts, in the upcoming playoffs Dwayne Wade will have to assume the leading role. 2012 will be an exciting year for First Take and as all sports fans know, you can never predict what will happen but we all have a lot of fun trying.

  • Danielle Stump

    I am thoroughly enjoying the new format. I had watched the show sporadically, but have found myself doing everything I can to catch it on a daily basis for several weeks now. I enjoy the different perspectives provided, as well as “insider information” provided by skilled, trained professionals. I find myself sometimes yelling at the television as I argue with the debaters and am amused that I have become so involved in a tv program. I especially like Skip’s contributions. I find I agree with him more than anyone, and am glad there is someone who has a voice that is proclaiming (often loudly!) my opinions. He is saying things to the world that I am saying to the people in my world. Thank you all for all you do. It is appreciated.

  • Jeff

    The new First Take format is already stale and Skip and Stephen A. Smith spending an hour yelling at each other on half the shows is not good television. Maybe it’s doing well in the short run but people are going to tire of it quickly, I already have and there’s better shows on TV to watch in the morning.

    Also, the statement that “Skip is 100% authentic” needs to be put on the BS Meter on Sportsnation because everyone knows that’s a load of crap and he just says stuff to cause controversy because apparently it’s getting ratings. But it’s all a ploy, don’t insult the intelligence of viewers by trying to act as if he actually believes everything he says.

  • Adam

    The show has gotten significantly better in the last few months. Perhaps it has something to do with the change in producer but it has grown to be much more viewer-friendly. I’ve always liked SportsNation so maybe I’m just a fan of Horowitz? I’m not sure when he took over at First Take but the show has done a 180 in my eyes and I’ve never minded Skip because I like seeing him put in his place. People talk about how they can’t stand him because of his irrational opinions…but who doesn’t love seeing him get owned by Stephen A. Smith? They’re definitely headed in the right direction with that show.

  • Stevie

    Why is dana jacobson leaving the show?

    • Jay Jay Nesheim

      Dana is leaving First Take to explore other opportunities at ESPN. She will be greatly missed on FT but we look forward to seeing her on other ESPN programming.

  • todd

    skip clueless….glad i got a clue and only watch the mothership for their games….the dan patrick show is the best out there….

  • Chris

    My problem isn’t the format. It’s Skip’s race-baiting. Why is the white debater the show’s driver with a rotating cast of African-American former journalists and former athletes? Skip is thus couched always to look like the best debater because this is all he does 5 days a week for years.
    As far as for him being 100 truthful? Well, that’s debatable because the way the questions are posed are always by degree as in: how is Tim Tebow’s race going to be a factor in media criticism on him? how will it not? They aren’t verifiable answers and thus Skip can hold whatever view he wants or just insist that, for example, LeBron won’t win a championship UNTIL he develops x, y, z…which prevents Skip and others from being wrong.
    He’s a character and a hockey villain who is paid to start fights.
    ESPN knows what they’re doing and manufacturing controversy (don’t act like it’s “following a story”…ESPN controls 95% of sports debates by its coverage or non-coverage) is big business. It’s professional wrestling where polarizing figures like LeBron, Tiger, Tebow, Harrison, and others’ debates drive more viewership than the games themselves and analysis of them. It’s the TMZ-ification of sportscasting.

  • gary highes

    Bayless is an idiot; he makes that halfwit Cowherd look like Jonas Salk. This programming is beyond stupid.

  • Alex Kim

    I am a serious fan of First Take. I DVR it everyday and watch it everyday. I also like the new format, but things need to change. I’m starting to feel like i’m watching Twilight Zone when watching First Take. Same debates, but different people. I’m starting to know exactly what Skip is going to say before he says it and what the other debater is going to say. You guys are skipping important topics to debate and instead debate about Tebow and football. Day after day after day. Three big events recently you guys waited to debate or didn’t even debate. (1) You guys waited a full day to debate the Penn State scandal. I was very dissappointed you guys did not tackle this scandal the first day after the weekend. I wanted to hear how Skip felt about the Penn State scandal, and had to wait a day. But I loved what John Ritchie had to say. I had goosebumps after his comments. (2) Ryan Braun. Hello. You guys have still not debated this. I don’t know what your waiting for. I guess it is too late now. (3) The World Series. You guys did one little segment on the World Series (one of the best World Series in recent memory), after the controversial game w/ La Russa.
    Please stop doing the same topics over and over again. Change up the topics a little. There are plenty of “fresh” “new” sports stories daily. Unfortunately, if you don’t listen, I will still be watching.

    P.S. to Skip: If Aaron Rodgers has not beaten anyone good, well, look at who Tebow has beaten this year. Terrible QB’s and back-up QB’s.

  • Matt

    ESPN’s descent into Fox News territory is almost complete. Enjoy your ratings at the expense of any respect from the viewers or yourselves.

  • Justin

    I am extremely disappointed that the format of First Take has changed. I have been a fan back to the days of Cold Pizza, and the television was always set to First Take each morning. However, as these changes keep taking place, I am finding less interest in watching the show. I loved watching First Take because it covered so much different sports material in so many different ways, and it made it interesting to watch. It was better than watching SportsCenter repeats over and over and seeing the same thing. It gave variety and made it great television. The debating with Skip added to that variety, which is why it was such a great show overall. Now, it’s 2 hours of the same, irrelevant topics – Tim Tebow discussed daily, as is Tony Romo and the Cowboys, and I’m sure Lebron and the Heat will be debated daily as well. And the main reason for this – it’s the topics that Skip are most passionate about and the ones that will get the most yelling and debate from him. In the past, I rarely would miss any of First Take (I would even have a hard time walking away from the TV during the show), but now it doesn’t bother me to just turn the TV off and walk away from it. Even more, I find myself listening to Colin Cowherd more on ESPN Radio during that time frame, because he just adds so much intrigue and interest, in addition to talking about all types of sports and offering his opinion. Stephen A Smith and Skip Bayless yelling back and forth about Tebow, Romo, or Lebron is getting very old – and very fast. You may say that ratings are increasing with the more debate – but how long can that seriously last? Are you just going to scratch this format and try something new if the ratings drop? From all of the original Cold Pizza and First Take fans, please don’t make this mistake. I’m deeply saddened that Dana Jacobson is leaving, as well. Her and Jay Crawford worked so well together and helped to build this show to what it is – just like Skip Bayless. I’ll definitely keep watching, but I just won’t be as interested in the show as I once was.

  • tonymf

    ugh. skip bayless is tied for the worst with cowherd. espn morning tv is unwatchable.

  • bb

    I hate to hear there will be more Skip on the air. Maybe we can pair him up with Cowherd to make a show that has no redeeming qualities,

    • David Scott

      As you can see from this string of comments, Skip Bayless and First Take have again combined to spur discussion and impassioned debate. We understand that not everyone will agree with or like all of the talented men and women who populate our network across all our platforms. The great thing is that sports fans have a forum like Front Row with which to air grievances or show support. We try and share all sides – provided the comments are free of vulgarities, innuendo or fictional elements. We thank all of Front Row’s visitors and regular users for helping to make us better and we encourage everyone to further the discussion on this and other topics. From all of us at Front Row and ESPN Communications, we wish you Happy and Healthy New Year.

  • DB Cooper

    This is the saddest darn thing I’ve ever read. Of course, David Scott takes it all as validation. America gets the ESPN it deserves, I suppose.

  • SJU

    I dislike the new format. It’s a screaming match. I could watch that on any Sunday News Show.

    I watch ‘First Take’ for insider news as well. MLB Doubleheader, College Insiders, NFL…those no longer are featured. While they’re on ‘Sportscenter’, they provided a good break from the shouting on the new debate ‘First Take’. This is a mistake.

    I’m not the only one leaving the new ‘First Take.’

  • Travis

    Bring back ESPN Hollywood and Max Kellerman as host of Around the Horn!

  • LeChoke

    Love the new format as First Take be super funny and Skip Bayless is GOLD!

  • KD

    With Dana leaving the show it will just leave StephenA and Skip yelling at each other for the entire show, right? Dana was the only voice of reason and temperance on the show. I don’t think I’ll be tuning in any longer.

  • Alanruns

    I am finished with First Take. Now that I know it will be two hours of Skip Mindless yelling inanities, I can easily find better things to do with my time. Dana deserved better, and I hope Jay does not get swept up in the carnage.

  • claysam

    I have been a fan of First Take since the days of Cold Pizza with Kit Hoover,Jay Crawford and The Andrews. For years I enjoyed First and Ten with Skip and Woody engaging in good natured banter, but the recent transformation of First Take into the Skip Bayless Show with Skip as Krusty the Clown and the sycophantic Jay Crawford as Sideshow Bob has become unwatchable. Too be honest,if I wanted to see hard headed, self absorbed people yell at one another in the morning, I’d invite my family over for brunch. That being said, at least there would be genuine emotion in a family dustup, not the contrived,scripted noise that First Take passes off for ‘debate’. It seems that every show Skip and Steven A must reitterate what great friends they are, and Jay,the faithful lackey, must remind us of how authentic Skip is in his opinions.It has become unpleasant viewing, and if I might paraphrase, a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

  • bob jacket

    I have read some of the comments and I must say that some people are not too bright. When people say that the show is phony and calculated, I say what is wrong with that? Remember people, the first take show is no different than any other show whose purpose and motivation is to increase viewership, thus increasing ratings. The first take show is a entertainment base show, WOW what a revelation.The bottom line is that if skip bayless was not affiliated with the show, the show would be off the air already. The previous format of the show was missing that entertainment excitement. It made sense to create the show around skip bayless; he is a entertainer, hate him or love him.Think and ask yourself this: what is the commonality between First Take and every show on television?

  • Alex T

    As a long time viewer of First Take, going back to the Cold Pizza days and someone who DVR’s the show every day, I have to agree with some of the people here on it becoming a bit “stale”. I love watching the debates with Skip and Stephen A. but it becomes a bit tiring when they talk about Tebow every single day and this comes from somebody who actually likes him as a person and an athlete. I can recite verbatim everything that Skip is going to say on a given topic because there just isn’t enough of a variety in the debates anymore. It’s always Tebow, Cowboys/Romo and how anti-clutch LeBron is. When Stephen A. is on there, for instance, I want to see MORE NBA topics, not the same Tebow and Cowboys’ questions throughout the year that I already know quite well and have heard many times. I know their feelings on these topics, as I’m sure many others do by now and I don’t want to continue hearing them every day. I understand that someone like Tebow was the leading story for awhile and will probably continue to be, depending on how he does against the Chiefs, as well as how big of a match-up the Giants-Cowboys game is. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE football and look forward to hearing all the football related stories on Monday but I also love other sports as well and I feel like it’s become too confined nowadays. If I want a specific sport to focus on I’ll just watch the NFL Network or whatever else I’m curious about at a given moment. I just want to hear new topics at least as well as other sports and topics brought into the discussion, depending on the guest debaters for a modicum of freshness. I’ll probably always be a loyal viewer of the show, but I just wanted to say that there needs to be some switching up as far as the topics and debates go because they get a bit old after hearing the same things being said day after day, week after week. I really look forward to Wednesdays now because I figure that there will be more NBA discussions with Stephen A. and Skip now that the lockout is over, rather than talking about the Cowboys all week long, along with Tim Tebow. The bottom line is that the new format is alright, just please try to have some new topics and maybe expand the sports brought up like the older shows did, which was a big reason why I watched it in the first place. I am sad to hear that Dana Jacobson is leaving but in some ways I can’t blame her now that the show has changed format. However, I wish her all the best as well as the entire cast and crew of ESPN and First Take.

    Happy New Year to all of you; I look forward to some fresh topics and debates in 2012! :D

  • Jennifer

    @Justin – I couldn’t have said it better myself. Sadly, I’m finished with First Take. It’s not as fun as SportsNation (which reminds me a bit of the old Cold Pizza with it’s mix of fun, interviews and debate). I’m glad I happened to have the show on this morning to see Dana’s final day on the show. It was the first I had heard of the changes officially, but had noticed it was ALL debate the past few weeks, which resulted in my turning the channel to either Colin Cowherd or OFF period. Best wishes to Jay and the crew on this new format. Sorry I won’t be around to see how it turns out.

  • john

    I used to like first take but lately all they talk about is tebow so I switch to the hurd at least he doesnt idolize tebow. football will be through pretty soon. watch the ratings for first take dive.

  • Jay

    I am sad that the change away from interviews and guests is permanent. It used to be a “complete” show that I would DVR and watch every day. I like First and Ten, but not two hours of it. Part of what made the show great was seeing the personalities of Jay and Dana. Now that is gone. I really don’t know that I will continue watching it long term. Maybe just switching to PTI will free up some time…

  • Robert

    I DVRed “First Take” for many years, but recently when the show suddenly became the “Steven Clich-A Smith Show” I found myself deleting it. I completey stopped watching after the third or fourth “a broken clock is right twice a day” gag. Sad to hear Dana got fired from the show; she was a breath of fresh air on sports TV. Also sad to see other great guests like Rob Parker being swept aside in favor of 2 hours of Skip and Steven A. repeating the same arguments over and over and over. Oh well, it was a fun show for several years. I’ll miss it. Dana will be missed; I wish her the best of luck in her new endeavors.

  • Dave

    This show was great at one time. It debated many topics but now it’s two hours of the same topics over & over again along with Skip Bayless & his massive ego. All the yelling and screaming doesn’t make something a great debate. That bandwagon/pep rally display for Tebow a couple of weeks ago was a bunch of crap and the way Skip Bayless acted that day was disgusting/unprofessional. A 2 hour show about Tebow? Give me a break! First Take has sunk to a new low. I’ll be DVR’ing Dan Patrick and/or Colin Cowherd from now on.

  • Paul

    I’m done with First Take. It is everything that is wrong with mindless sports gas bags who constantly talk over each other and who don’t give each other a chance to talk.

  • shari

    i’m growing weary of First Take. Ive always enjoyed the debate portion of the show, but this is repetition lunacy. i feel bad for jay and the now departed dana. i would love to ask them confidentially how bored they get just sitting there listening to pretty much the same thing, in the same format day after day. i love a good debate, but two hours of it, and the lack of a variety of topics discussed has made it a show for the intellectually challenged and/or the incredibly bored. the journalists who work on the show are no longer able to show their journalistic attributes. ive watched the show since Cold Pizza, looked forward to it every morning, really enjoyed the variety and the actual researching and planning of topics to be discussed in various formats. dont understand how any true sports journalist could enjoy this. seems as if youve taken a cool concept of a show that appealed to many people, like a USA Today newspaper, and turned it into what was once The World Weekly News.

  • JoeBracks

    I used to watch First Take faithfully, now I turn to it once in a while…only to see Tim Tebow being discussed and faithfully defended by Skip, then I quickly change the channel again. Dana Leaving, Stale Format, Overdose of Skip, lack of entertaining segments and interviews. They say this new format is drawing in more views, must be from the Tebow zombies. I’m highly disappointed.

  • Dave

    Cold Pizza was the best. It had an energy from the city, a quirkiness from two no-name hosts and a charm provided by Woody and a much subdued Bayless. First Take lost the energy and the charm but kept the uniqueness of being unlike any other show on the network. Now the show has become boring. The same topics repeated over and over by two sports writers who feel they can only get their point across if they yell and scream. Skip has become intolerable and the switch to a Skip-centered show is having noticeable affects on his ego. I watched Cold Pizza/First Take everyday for years. It has been taken off my DVR and I rarely watch more than 30 minutes a week. ESPN, and I guess Jamie Horowitz, ruined my favorite show on the network. Why not give Skip a radio show and keep First Take what it was meant to be?

  • Pete Raridan

    Just want to say that I for one will miss Dana on ESPN First Take, but at the same time I understand that at times change goes with the territory. One thing that I do remember is the chemistry between Jay and Dana. It was terrific! Good luck and best wishes to all in 2012.

  • Jim

    Well, after watching this new format now for a few weeks I can safely say I do not like it. It was interesting at first, the more debate part, but that quickly lost it’s edge and it reminds me now of a “fake” reality show. Seeing Skip “bait” NFL guests was just too much for me. It is beneath him, or so I thought. If I would have had to choose between Dana and Jay, I would have chosen Dana, she had a more level head and a willingness to speak up. It is still the first week of 2012 and I find myself searching cable news shows when this is on. This was the one show I looked forward to watching after coming home from midnight shifts. Not any more. Sometimes change for the sake of change is not a good thing. Those first ratings were because of the change, but they are like gawkers driving by an accident, and this new format is an accident just waiting to happen.

  • John

    I like the new format. It was the only part of the show that I waited for. As far of the hosts, Dana and Jay were the hosts but it always seemed like one of them was missing anyway. How many days off a year do they get!! You better have a back up for Jay, this guy has more time off than retired people