The following is a freelance submission by DJ Byrnes, a writer at Eleven Warriors and someone not too fond of FS1’s new direction under Jamie Horowitz.
FOX Sports 1 launched Aug. 17th, 2013 and it billed itself as a budding oasis in the hellscape of big-time sports coverage long monopolized by ESPN. That mirage died a violent death when FOX poached Jamie Horowitz from ESPN in May 2015.
When asked by the New York Times to describe his programming philosophy, Horowitz cited Norman Lear, the creator of All in the Family:
“He said the guiding light for his shows was, ‘Don’t worry whether this opinion or that view is likable. It just has to be real and honest, and then you build around that.’”
To an outsider, it looks like Horowitz doesn’t understand the quote. How else would he explain the prominence of Skip Bayless, Jason Whitlock, Colin Cowherd, and Clay Travis on his network?
Corporate programmers don’t give a damn about honesty. They want what all ghouls want – bone marrow, which in this case is clicks and views. Television executives would broadcast pigs fornicating if it guaranteed a bottom line satisfying to paymasters and wouldn’t draw FCC ire.
After all, shit sells in America.
Credit to Bayless and Cowherd, though. They came up in a simpler era, where people paid $99 a year to have Skip Bayless columns faxed to them. They forged media empires with big words and piping hot takes. There were more talented writers — even sportswriters who read more than three books a year — but none of them could go paycheck for paycheck.
Cowherd can at least fall back on radio, where the hot take is eternal. His sizable, albeit smaller, cult of greying, not-so-middle-aged men will follow him into the grave.
Bayless’ schtick aged well as the 30-year-old former biology classmate with three “bullshit” DUIs flipping off your Facebook feed. Bayless’ act is so hilariously convoluted; he marauds the landscape like a vampire, in search of athletic events into which he can inject bankrupt abominations like “clutch gene” and “overrated.”
This game has turned into an unfortunate joke. Clemson has lost heart because its leader has inexplicably lost his way.
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) January 10, 2017
Nick Saban is overrated. @undisputed. 9:30 AM ET. FS1
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) January 10, 2017
Travis and Whitlock are two less-heartier cuts from the same stale six-inch Subway sub, which makes their existence no less frustrating. They see themselves as beacons of independent thought while carrying water for the largest media conglomerate in the world.
Travis wilted into low-rent Donald Trump, right down to the dog whistle racism, but you don’t get near the top of the SEC media snake pit with docile takes. You do it by trolling mental health crisis hotlines and writing caveman screeds like this, from Travis’ 2008 book, hilariously entitled Man: The Book:
Just as men trained themselves in archery, sword-fighting, ax-swinging, and disemboweling on the verdant plains of old England, so too, must you train yourself on the oaken tables of the bar. You have to know what not to drink, what not to wear, and how to use gay men to your advantage. (Gay men are like the calvary of the modern bar.) Soon, like Neo in The Matrix, all around you the bar will spin with exquisite slowness.
These are the pawns of Travis’ rudimentary game: the infantile everyman that romanticizes disembowelment but also can’t work up the courage to talk to women without consulting a sexual assault playbook.
This is why he frequently plays the “P.C. Police” card—as if there are vigilantes riding around America, dragging overpaid sportswriters and their families from their beds and burning their ill-gotten gains to the ground.
Our society isn’t that just.
Whitlock’s career looks like side-by-side mugshots of somebody spiraling into the depths of methamphetamine addiction. Only the meth in this case is “Actually, I’m the only smart one” diatribes usually reserved by high schoolers with an Accutane prescription.
Now, FOX pays him to dress like a strip club buffet connoisseur and grope memes like only a 49-year-old man can. At least he had the decency to shutter his Tumblr account.
Face you make when you win the popular vote, but the Russians hacked the electoral college. pic.twitter.com/g7v2o68NfT
— Jason Whitlock (@WhitlockJason) December 31, 2016
Even with their wealth, the Four Trashmen of the Apocalypse are pitiful figures. Their ratings no longer justify their swollen egos, and they never will again, because their best days as thinkers and entertainers are behind them.
ESPN struck “gold” with First Take, which achieved a ubiquitous barbershop apotheosis, but hordes aren’t flocking to whatever Skip calls his new show. Hordes didn’t follow Cowherd when he switched over. It would dilute “horde” to apply it to Travis’ and Whitlock’s combined fan bases.
It’s almost as if ESPN’s superior distribution platforms mattered, and people have a bevy of other options. FOX Sports didn’t kill ESPN. It poorly mimicked its worst features when the company loses millions of subscribers a year.
It’s trying to purchase an audience with intellectual capital more fraudulent than a Skip Bayless Facebook Live comment.
When this era collapses, like all houses of cards eventually do, Horowitz might reflect upon how that quote got lost in translation. But then he’ll check his bank account and think he got it right all along.