Barstool Van Talk is dead after just one episode aired on ESPN2 last Tuesday evening, with ESPN president John Skipper saying the cancellation is not because of anything the show did, but because of the perceived associations it created between ESPN and Barstool Sports’ other content. Here’s Skipper’s statement:
Statement from ESPN President John Skipper about Barstool Van Talk: pic.twitter.com/ysgSKDvmjx
— ESPN PR (@ESPNPR) October 23, 2017
Here’s the statement from Pardon My Take (the podcast featuring Big Cat and PFT Commenter, which spawned this show):
A statement on today's news: pic.twitter.com/JyaxG4l5kO
— Pardon My Take (@PardonMyTake) October 23, 2017
Big Cat and PFT Commenter also discussed this on their own Twitter feeds:
I'm obviously beyond heartbroken, but if you know me, Hank, and PFT you know we won't stay down from this for long.
— Big Cat (@BarstoolBigCat) October 23, 2017
Also now people can make Rick Pitino jokes about how fast our show ended, I can't deny that's pretty funny
— Big Cat (@BarstoolBigCat) October 23, 2017
Welp. Time2 get drunk
— PFTCommenter (@PFTCommenter) October 23, 2017
It appears that a second episode at least was taped, but will not air. Paul Pabst of The Dan Patrick Show noted that Patrick was the guest on it:
Dan was going to be the guest on episode two. https://t.co/FJgSs39XrS
— Paul Pabst (@PaulPabst) October 23, 2017
And Big Cat previously shared some photos of that:
— Big Cat (@BarstoolBigCat) October 20, 2017
This happened just 10 days after Barstool Van Talk was officially announced, prompting some current-events comparisons:
"Barstool Van Talk" was announced on Oct. 13. It is Oct. 23 today. Anthony Scaramucci served in the White House for the same amount of days. https://t.co/jcgEilb9oT
— Sung Min Kim (@sung_minkim) October 23, 2017
It makes sense that connections were cited as a reason for this, as Barstool Van Talk‘s first episode itself was unconventional, but not particularly controversial., and while the 88,000 viewers who tuned in for the first episode weren’t phenomenal, they weren’t bad for that slot. Those numbers alone wouldn’t have been a reason to cancel any show this fast, and with ESPN having approval over the show’s content, too, it seems unlikely BVT itself would have caused too many problems in the future.
But those associations with Barstool Sports were prominent, and they made this partnership such an odd fit in the first place. Barstool Sports as a whole has taken criticism on numerous occasions, and they were recently blasted by ESPN’s Sam Ponder (over Barstool’s past attacks on her).
While BVT wasn’t causing problems itself, it was certainly generating backlash for ESPN thanks to the Barstool association, and ESPN apparently decided that the benefits weren’t enough to keep this partnership going. But what’s really bizarre is that they didn’t see this coming. Anything with the Barstool brand is going to have a significant number of fans, but also a lot of critics, and it’s not really that surprising that Ponder got mad about having to work at the same network as people from a brand that had previously made such NSFW comments about her.
And as AA’s Joe Lucia wrote in his BVT review, this was a lot of backlash to risk for a late-night show:
What it comes down to with Van Talk isn’t the content of the show itself — it’s the Barstool branding and the visceral reaction that many (including Sam Ponder) have towards the brand. Barstool undoubtedly has a strong, loyal following, but will the potential gains ESPN receives for a half hour a week from this audience be able to overwhelm the (in many cases, justifiable) scorn that others have towards Barstool?
I almost think that Van Talk would be a better fit on another network (Viceland, for example), because it would allow them to take some of the remaining shackles off and not have to worry about corporate blowback from a company in ESPN that has been tripping over its own feet in recent months.
The gain from having Van Talk on ESPN2 at 1 a.m. on Tuesdays for ESPN is minimal. It’s not as if ardent Barstool fans are suddenly going to watch eight more hours a week of ESPN because Pardon My Take has a half hour of airtime once a week. They’re also not going to re-attract Barstool fans that are cord cutters for a half hour of weekly entertainment.
I think there’s a decent, if not eventually good, show here. But airing in such a buried timeslot for 30 minutes a week isn’t a way to turn the premiere into something that succeeds long-term for ESPN, for Barstool, and for Pardon My Take. Making the move to partner with Barstool on a show was going to garner criticism, no matter what happened.
ESPN has now decided that gain really is minimal, and it’s time to cut their losses. But this certainly isn’t going to make ESPN popular with Barstool fans, and the decision to partner with Barstool and then cut bait so fast is going to be one more talking point for ESPN critics in general.