We've looked at what departing ESPN big momma Mark Shapiro did right during his reign atop the network and at what he did wrong. The real question is what the network will do now that the man responsible for its radical facelift over the last few years has gone. There will be no real "replacement" for Shapiro; the network is said to be spreading his job among several top executives, considered the only possible short-term solution. ESPN continues to post positive growth quarters, after all, even if many think its dominance of online is slipping.
But what of ESPN's culture? Will the programming continue to skew toward VH-1's? Will there be more "reality" shows — a strange notion for a television station based around live events with no predetermined outcome — like the upcoming Bob Knight walk-on show be the new linchpin? Will the building-up of ESPN2-exclusive programming continue? Will someone please do something about Mario Lopez?
The future of those known to have Shapiro-favored status is also in question, including Skip Bayless, Stuart Scott and, most notoriously, Stephen A. Smith. How long can money be spent on a show with lower ratings than informercials? ESPN will remain the major force on the sports landscape, thanks in very large part to Shapiro's leadership, but there's still a mindset that, in leaving to work for Daniel Snyder (of all people), Shapiro is bolting just in time. After all, the only way to go, at this point, is down.
The Doc Is Not In [NY Post] (second item)