Yesterday it was reported by SI’s Richard Deitsch that Michael Smith would be following his former co-host Jemele Hill in leaving the 6 pm SportsCenter. As we wrote in January, it was a long time coming for both Mike and Jemele to leave the show, as they did not fit the bill of legacy SportsCenter hosts, and they were clashing with their producers.
Hill wanted to leave the show. But according to the The Hollywood Reporter, Smith’s departure “was not voluntary.”
What stood out most in the report was ESPN executive VP and executive editor of studio production Norby Williamson’s declaration of victory:
“Williamson quipped in front of a room full of people when Hill departed: “’One down, one to go.'”
Jemele Hill took her hefty salary to The Undefeated, where she will write and contribute to various ESPN TV programming. Michael Smith is heading to the bench for the time being. The big issue is their salaries. Both were given massive new contracts to carry SportsCenter, and now that it has failed, is the return on investment for the pair doing intellectually fulfilling work going to ruffle feathers in Bristol?
For the time being, ESPN suits will re-install more traditional SportsCenter anchors at 6 pm. Where the potential problem lies is two-fold: How will the new hosts handle making 1/2 of the over 7-figure salary Hill and Smith did, and when the new John Skipper starts looking at the bottom line – according to Variety, that Jimmy Pitaro’s speciality at Disney – where will he cut costs to make up the difference? Is ESPN News a candidate?
Pitaro will preside over four hours of new studio programming in the network’s daytime lineup: The forthcoming “Get Up! featuring Mike Greenberg/Michelle Beadle/Jalen Rose and the as-yet-titled and twice-pushed-back Bomani Jones/Pablo Torre shows, and 6pm SportsCenter. Beyond that, rights fee renewals beckon a few years away for a rapidly-evolving ESPN.