ESPN’s studio show format made its talent expendable

None of the countdowns resonate anymore, and it’s a wonder why anyone would want to fill those shoes

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Suzy Kolber was among roughly 20 ESPN commentators and reporters who were laid off
Suzy Kolber was among roughly 20 ESPN commentators and reporters who were laid off
Photo: Tyler Kaufman (AP)

After weeks of speculation and rumors, ESPN gave us its own version of Black Monday, letting loose around 20 highly visible, and in a few cases, staple personalities Friday. Jeff Van Gundy, Suzy Kolber, Jalen Rose, Keyshawn Johnson, Matt Hasselback, Todd McShay, Max Kellerman, Steve Young, and LaPhonso Ellis, among others, were jettisoned as part of ESPN’s parent company, Disney, tightening its belt after some frivolous spending and quarterly losses.

What stands out isn’t just how weird it’ll be not seeing those faces at the worldwide leader, but who they deemed replaceable. Kolber, Young, Hasselback, and Johnson were all on Monday Night Countdown at one time or another, but don’t quote me on that because all of their NFL programming runs together. Rose was part of the company’s NBA studio coverage, and Ellis did a lot of college hoops analysis.


The main job responsibilities of these personalities were to preview live telecasts, and maybe get a couple insights in at halftime. So that tells me ESPN knows what its critics have been saying for years: No one watches their bloated, drab studio shows.

A futile cycle

They’re all just an ever-shifting blob of former players and a couple journalists trying to deliver hot takes in 15 seconds or less, and failing because the producers have 13 more analysts and 14 million gimmicks to get to. I don’t know the exact ratings, yet as someone who is constantly combing the internet for funny clips to aggregate, it’s rare for any ESPN studio show to have a viral moment a la TNT’s Inside the NBA.


I know not everyone can be as charismatic as Charles Barkley, but forcing guys — some of whom haven’t used a contraction in a decade — to yell “C’mon, man!” doesn’t help. The reason people love harping on ESPN is none of this shit feels authentic.

Take Booger McFarland for example. He’s a fucking awesome podcast guest, but in small doses, that wit doesn’t come through, and he sounds like any other personality-less personality employed at Bristol. (Bring back the Booger Mobile, you cowards!)

All I want from a pregame show is familiarity, a few unforced laughs, a token breakdown, and coherence. Watching ESPN never feels like you’re hanging out with your buddies, because human beings don’t speak in talking points while enmeshed with touchscreens.

Kolber was a 27-year veteran of the company. She should’ve been the perfect fit for that job because longevity is comforting, and her professionalism is on par with an Ernie Johnson. Whoever lands her job, or any of the roles opened up by the layoffs, is going to have a hard time resonating because it’s impossible to do under the company’s current exhausting formula.