Last month, Bill Wolff, who created Around the Horn in 2002, returned to ESPN as the new Vice President of Studio Production. In this role, he will be overseeing ESPN’s existing daytime studio shows and developing new ones. Wolff reports to Connor Schell, the 30 for 30 co-creator promoted last July to Senior Vice President, where he heads up original programming. Dave Roberts, who oversees First Take, and Kevin Wildes, who presides over NBA studio programming, now report to Wolff.
Schell announced the changes to ESPN staff internally in April.
At Upfronts, Michael McCarthy noted that ESPN announced Wolff will oversee the development of the upcoming Mike Greenberg studio show, set to launch in early 2018. Through an ESPN spokesperson, Wolff declined to comment for this story.
Wolff has had a long and winding road since leaving ESPN in 2004 to create the show I, Max on Fox Sports Net with original Around the Horn host Max Kellerman. Just months after the show launched, Kellerman went through the horrible tragedy of losing his brother Sam to murder, which was covered in-depth by SI’s Gary Smith. The program struggled to find its footing, and it was canceled less than a year after it debuted.
Wolff eventually became the VP of prime time programming for MSNBC, where he created the Rachel Maddow Show. This run was extremely successful, and when he left to oversee The View on ABC (sidenote: ABC acquired Wolff in a trade when Jamie Horowitz left ESPN for what was ultimately a short stint with the Today show at NBC), he received a hearty on-air farewell from the host:
The last two stops since Maddow have not been successful for Wolff. He was out at The View in less than a year, a tenure that Variety called “disastrous” in the headline of an insider story about what went wrong. Three of the four co-hosts left the show during this stretch, and ratings slipped.
Wolff also had a short-lived run in executive producing Chelsea Handler’s Netflix series, departing the show three weeks after it launched.
“It was a rough start to the show,” Handler told Howard Stern last month (at the 21-minute mark of the interview). “Yeah, I’d say it was traumatic. It was very clear it wasn’t working out before the show started, and I just kind of wanted him out. . . . It wasn’t horrible; it’s just not something I’m used to doing. I’m not used to working with someone I don’t want to work with.
“There’s not a great way to get to know whether you can work with somebody until you actually work with them. So, you can interview somebody five times and think that it’s a good fit, but you’re never gonna figure that fit out until you’ve actually worked together for a few months. . . . It was way before we started the show. . . . I wasn’t gelling. I wasn’t feeling the show.”
Despite these recent hiccups, creating an original talk television program — or even stewarding a legacy one — is obviously not an easy task. Far more shows fail than succeed, and Wolff has made two in the past 15 years that have been profoundly successful. That’s no small feat. Nevertheless, he will have a monumental challenge to make the Greenberg show resonate on television in that time slot, especially when you consider they are breaking up a cash cow on radio (which also typically draws over 200,000 viewers on ESPN2) to make way for it. If this works, Wolff will deserve a lot of credit.