You should read Richard Deitsch on Dana Jacobson's defenestration from ESPN's First Take—as a co-host, she was to Skip Bayless what Dave Garroway was to his pet chimp—but you should really read this ESPN interview with First Take producer Jamie Horowitz, which is a stupid little fractal of everything stupid about the Worldwide Leader.
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.
We pause here to note that all those debaters are black, which is what allows ESPN to pretend that Skip's transparent Negro-baiting and resentment-peddling are part of a Conversation About Race. We proceed:
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.
Horowitz goes on to say Skip is "100 percent authentic" and "sincerely believes what he says," and it's a measure of how fucked our media culture is that 1.) Horowitz has to say it at all (reading that quote, I get the same queasy feeling I do when a fast-food restaurant assures me I'm eating 100 percent real Angus beef; should I have assumed otherwise?); and 2.) he's lying. Horowitz also says, "Skip was the first analyst to say LeBron James didn't have the panache of a champion," as if beating the sports punditry to the fattest, lowest branch on the world's shortest, dumbest tree were somehow a significant accomplishment. (Also: "Panache of a champion"? Champion of what—the Rockettes?)
You know what Skip Bayless is? Skip Bayless is a hockey goon. He can't skate or pass or defend or score. His sole job is to go out and start a fight with someone. Not because he has a grievance or cares, but because he is a fight-starter, and fans cheer whenever he starts a fight. And now ESPN is skating him on the first line.
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.
The wonder is that it took ESPN so long to discover something the bellowing fat-asses on drive-time radio have always known. Deitsch says that First Take reached a Tebow-engorged audience of 586,835 viewers on Dec. 5, a record. I don't think he's wrong to see a "Skip Bayless-ization" of ESPN—staged disagreement, he means—even if this particular horse was out of the barn and sipping Evian in Crossfire's green room ages ago. In the future, "debate" will be everywhere on ESPN. Daylong blocks of people disagreeing with one another (or pretending to disagree, because the format demands it). It'll be a game show without the prizes. It'll be performance art, an endless scroll being pulled out of an endless vagina. Relentless bullshit, 100 percent authentic, 24 hours a day.