Just steps beyond the lobby of the News Corp. Building in Midtown Manhattan on the set that used to house Fox And Friends, Nick Wright, Cris Carter, and Jenna Wolfe sat around a modern-looking glass table on a picturesque Tuesday morning during the 166th airing of their Fox Sports 1 morning show First Things First.
As on any morning sports show, they discussed the hot topics of the day, which of course included some takes. In calling out Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder for their poor performance the night before in the NBA Playoff, Wright asked, “how are we going to remember Russ? As a better Stephon Marbury?” There was also multiple segments on the NFL Draft, the Houston Rockets and Dez Bryant’s future.
After the show, the trio spoke to Awful Announcing about the show’s first nine months on the air, where the show fits on television’s crowded morning show market, how ratings factor in to how the show is put together and Get Up!, ESPN’s new morning show based a few miles away.
In explaining his description of First Things First, which airs weekdays from 6:30 to 9:30 eastern, Wright started by rhetorically asking what the audience is for this show.
“You have to already be bought into being a pretty serious sports fan, to be opting for us in the mornings,” Wright told Awful Announcing. “And so then for those people, try to deliver from one of our perspectives, something that resonates with them.”
To get that understanding, or something to talk about with their friends while watching people who seem to have a good time together, Wright said, “we’re kind of their first shot at that in the morning.”
Along with Wright, a seemingly rising star in the sports TV landscape, Carter has a wealth of experience in the NFL and on various ESPN platforms, while Wolfe spent eight years at NBC’s Today show and has sports broadcasting experience as well.
Wolfe told Awful Announcing that while the trio has very distinct lanes, “we’re able to veer in and out of traffic seamlessly without stepping on anyone” on the show.
Like every program, First Things First is trying to strike a balance and a blend between news, information, fun, hot takes, analytics, and stats. But TV shows are ultimately created to draw people in, to drive ratings, and bring revenue to the network. But less than a year in, the hosts don’t appear to be concerned as of yet.
“I feel we do zero segments for ratings,” Carter told Awful Announcing. “I don’t feel like we take a topic because of ratings. I feel it’s pretty cut and dry. We’re going to talk about the most popular things that people want to hear. I have never been approached about anything that drives ratings.”
In his eloquently analytical way, Wright laid out how topics and subject matter are chosen for First Things First.
“If people come by, they’re stopping by for anywhere from 12 to 22 minutes, and they are expecting you— again, if you’ve opted in— to be talking about the big stories that day,” Wright said.
Wright said that four or five major things are being discussed a day because of the amount of time most viewers are tuning in for, almost like what a drivetime morning news radio show would do. On 1010 AM in New York City, WINS famously cycles through all the major news topics every 22 minutes.
“We’re not doing it to get ratings, we’re doing it because that’s what most of the country is interested in,” Wolfe said. “And we’re not going to give you a blanket of sports coverage just for the sake of saying we covered Game 3 of the Flyers series last night just to say that we did it.”
Wright put it in a way of how a viewer who just tuned in at any given time would react.
“I wanna know what the hell’s happening with the Thunder,” Wright, said. “It’s your guys’ problem you talked about this 45 minutes ago. I wasn’t here.’”
Wright said he has a decent idea about where First Things First is at in terms of ratings and what Fox’s internal goals are for the show, but the networks haven’t talked to the hosts about it just yet.
“I mean we could find out,” he said. “They won’t hold them from us.”
Another factor in this first full year of the show is that there was no prior live programming that First Things First replaced.
“So there was no built in, ‘oh, I loved the show that was on there, but this show’s good.’ There was no show,” Wright said. “There were re-airs of motocross, or whatever.”
Wright went on to say that he views the trio’s jobs in terms of ratings to leave FS1 better than the previous time slot to put the next shows down the line, Undisputed and The Herd in better position to succeed and build momentum.
Despite the popularity and ubiquity of sports in America, there are only three real sports morning television shows in the U.S.; First Things First, Good Morning Football on NFL Network, and ESPN’s newest creation, Get Up!, which began this month from the network’s new Manhattan studio with Mike Greenberg, Jalen Rose and Michelle Beadle. Asked how Get Up! affects what happens early in the morning on FS1, Carter emphatically said, “it has zero factor.”
“I’m the only one who has existing relationships with some of the people there,” Carter said. “Greeny, I would call him a friend. Jalen, I would call a friend. Beadle, I know Beadle. It doesn’t factor into us. We were already up and running. We weren’t created because of them.”
Carter said that the focus should be on what makes he, Wright and Wolfe unique, rather than comparing them to anyone else.
“We have enough in trying to concentrate on ourselves and working on our show, and working on our beat, that we don’t have time to be worried about nobody else,” Carter said. “Like that’s irrelevant, what they’re doing. It really is.”
In light of the Chris Russo-Bart Scott feud, where Scott admitted to not being a baseball person in a baseball-crazed city like New York, the First Things First crew was asked how they deal with a knowledge gap, or what happens when someone may not know that much about a particular sport, or game or topic.
“Then it’s not on the television show,” Wright said. “There’s no room for ‘we talk about this because we have to talk about it, but we don’t know about it.’ If we have to talk about it, then we know beforehand that we have to talk about it and you’ve gotta be up on it.”
Wolfe wanted to talk about the Yankees and baseball on Tuesday’s show, but because Wright said that he’s not that locked into baseball yet because of the NBA playoffs and the NFL Draft, and he didn’t “want to fake it.”
“I think you could get found out too quick if you’re BS’ing about knowing about stuff,” he said.
Carter said that the three of them know each other well enough that they would know if someone else would have “a blind spot” and that the other hosts and the production and research staff would help that person out. It works the other way, too. If one of the co-hosts knows that someone has a great point or an anecdote to make about a certain topic, they’ll lead that person into it, something they call trying “to put the other person up by the rim.”
“We’re no longer filling in the holes where we’re lacking in any way, but we’re filling in our strengths,” Wolfe said. “We’re setting each other up. And that comes with familiarity.”
Wright, Carter and Wolfe are betting that their familiarity for one another, their passion and knowledge for the biggest topics in sports and resonating with their audience will keep them on the air for a long time.
“It feels like we’ve hit our stride,” Wright said. “I hope that I look back a year from now and say that’s crazy we thought we hit our stride, that we’re better than before. And that we continue to keep the feel we have of the people we work with.”