ESPN revealed its 2018 lineup at Tuesday’s Upfront presentation. Most notable was what was absent: SportsCenter. Less than five years after ESPN invested nine figures in a new studio for wall-to-wall flagship coverage, live SportsCenter will not be on the main network before 6 p.m. ET. Even that show is a hybrid, born from one of the network’s many discussion shows.

How ESPN moves forward is a question. The answer, in the morning at least, is a curious one: Mike Greenberg. His long-mooted morning show will debut January 1, 2018, from 7 a.m.-10 a.m. ET on ESPN. ESPN will base it in Manhattan. That’s about all we know about it.

Show elements, per ESPN, are “currently in development.” The WWL is promising “several co-hosts,” a “rotation of various guests and expert contributors,” and a “lively mix of news, opinions, and analysis.” ESPN senior VP Connor Schell says the goal is “to create something truly unique with Mike.”

Ignoring the unnecessary modifier for “unique,” that’s a tough ask. The immediate thought raised by a Mike Greenberg show is “Why will anyone watch that?” The announcement raised so much excitement it didn’t even last a day on the front page of ESPN’s PR site.

This is not a knock on Greenberg. He’s a smooth broadcaster. He has stewarded a quite successful radio/simulcast franchise. But a branded show for him seems to be a move in opposition to the direction ESPN and the rest of the industry are taking. At a time where Stephen A. Smith is the face of the network, ESPN is making a major (reported salary north of $6.5 million) bet on one of its most vanilla personalities.

Greenberg, in many ways, is a holdover from a previous iteration of ESPN. He’s the straight man who is super-enthusiastic about sports. He’s a relentless professional. He’s remarkably non-incendiary. He’s almost the antithesis of a take artiste. Is he a natural draw for target demographic viewers? Does he draw an audience away from Trey Wingo replacing him on basically the same radio show?

From the ESPN description, the show sounds a lot like the “Mike & Mike” morphing into “Sports GMA” vision ESPN presented in 2015, before nixing it. One could see Greenberg slotting seamlessly into a George Stephanopoulos role, down to the side part. Such a show could, in theory, appeal.

By January 2018, people may clamor for a morning TV show with a near-zero chance of the latest Donald Trump trainwreck getting brought up. There may be space for a SportsCenter reinvention, before the inevitable move to on-demand streaming.

That said, such a show is a vision with many potential pitfalls. The show needs the right balance. A too buttoned up “lively mix of news, opinion, and analysis” with ESPN experts popping in is going to read exactly like the SportsCenter it is de facto replacing. There’s danger of going too loose as well. Something too freeform will come off like the “ESPN personalities sitting around watching the game” shows that haven’t quite panned out or Crowd Goes Wild.

They must produce viral elements to work in 2017, which won’t be easy. Greenberg is unlikely to set the table for the sports day with one of his strong opinions. He did not garner a reputation for particularly provocative interviewing on Mike & Mike. As we saw with Bill Simmons’ Any Given Wednesday, it’s hard to rely on interviews to produce those. You won’t get a raving Ben Affleck every day.

There’s also a danger the show finds some new, profound way to be lame. Don’t think we’ve forgotten about “Who’s Now?

ESPN getting the supporting cast right will be critical. Co-hosts will have to be younger. The show will need some edge, even a muted, morning show form of it. Does the WWL pull the trigger and bring in Katie Nolan as the Sporting News floated a few months ago?

Most critical will be having a clear, coherent vision Greenberg can execute. If we’re still only getting vague statements about Greenberg understanding the morning landscape and promises the show will be “lively” by December, that won’t be a good sign.

About Ty Duffy

Ty is a freelance writer/editor based outside Detroit. He's a Michigan Man. He enjoys dogs, whiskey, yoga, and composing pithy career summaries. Contact him at tyduffy@gmail.com.

  • modernishfather

    Cold Pizza 2.0

    • MetaphysicalMan

      Cold Pizza is long gone but it spawned First Take. Maybe this is their plan, to indirectly create the new First Take (Second Take?)

  • DipShep

    My bet is Lindsay Czarniak as co-host. Outside candidate would be Melissa Stark who’s dream was always to host the Today Show so this is as close as it gets.

  • Did you just compare Greeny to Bill Simmons? I hope so, since I really don’t care much Simmons and never liked his pokes at Mike & Mike.

    Greeny can take strong stands. Sometimes. He was one of the loudest voices warning of potential health hazards to some athletes at the Rio Olympics (hazards that were real but thankfully didn’t affect the athletes). He is a rabid Jets fan and makes his displeasure known often. And he can’t be neutral about Northwestern.

    But for the most part, yes, he is a man of calm demeanor and rational judgment. I want more people like him, but are such people best used as hosts of a morning show? Really, the reason he and Golic work is that Golic (who is, to be fair, intelligent and wise to the ways of the sports world) likes to be a goad and Greeny likes to respond. Where will they find that goad for Morning Show Greeny?

    • John Adams

      Espn needs a Steve Czaban but he is actually interesting. Mike Greenberg takes safe stands on issues loudly. Wow it is really controversial to be against dirty water or concussions. Mike Greenberg gets in and out of his reads professionally but offers zero entertainment. I can predict the show before I turn it on and that’s why I stopped listening.

  • unknown1691

    The guy babbles and cowers to athletes almost apologetically for not being an athlete. I just don’t see it as an interesting show.

  • William Foss

    Wouldn’t Greenberg’s target audience all be at work generally at this time? Maybe It’s just me but Radio is how a lot of working adults consume espn on the way to work or having it played in the background of the office. And you have podcasts…

    • Realist

      That was my thought. I like Greenberg as a host and he is the reason I listen to Mike and Mike. I was a huge fan of SVP on the radio, but I haven’t watched his Sportscenter once. Midnight EST is too late when I have to work in the morning. Losing Mike means I’ll pass on the new morning show, and I won’t be home to watch the new one on TV.

  • Christopher Scott Stark

    I am looking forward to it. I still/watch listen in the morning but Golic has gotten old and tired for me personally. I skip the shows when Greenberg is off which seems to happen rather frequently and even on a daily basis turn to the Dan Patrick Show on NBCSN at 9:00 am.

    His co-host will be key and I do believe it needs to be a female. While I wouldn’t mind a Sage Steele, Lindsay Czarniak, or Melissa Stark I think they should look to go a little younger and that Katie Nolan or even better Kay Adams would be the best fit.

  • MBG9

    Listen Up

  • BobLee Says

    I always saw “The Two Mikes” as nice guys you would enjoy sitting beside on a long flight. … I was doing fine with this article until I hit “another Trump trainwreck” and realized Ty Duffy was auditioning for a job in John Skipper’s liberal attack dog army.

  • Jake Snakobson

    I’ll take nebbish milquetoast for $200 Alex. Pass.

  • MrBull

    $6.5 million for Greenberg is another example of why some very talented reporters were ‘dumped over board’ by espn…Greene is not worth that much money and the harsh reality will come a calling by April 1st when this morning show will be a ratings disaster….

  • josh

    Maybe ESPN has finally figured out some white folk like their sports without the drama. Seriously tired of first take with all the social commentary. Just tell me who won the game.

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