On Tuesday, FS1’s new First Things First morning show will make its debut, featuring Nick Wright, Cris Carter, and Jenna Wolfe. Wright spoke to Awful Announcing Friday about the new show, his sports radio background and how he thinks some characterizations of FS1 as a debate network aren’t accurate. First, he said he was tense headed into this past week’s dress rehearsals, but they’ve helped relieve his anxiety about the launch.
“Honest to god, I couldn’t be happier,” Wright said. “I am so much more at ease right now than I was headed into this week. And I wasn’t so much nervous that the week of rehearsals wouldn’t go well, I was at a real high anxiety level about ten days ago because the reality of everything was kind of washing over me that this was about to actually happen. The rehearsal week has made me feel so much better.”
Wright added that he was confident in the chemistry with Carter and Wolfe before these rehearsals, but that it was particularly gratifying to see that they were able to maintain that for the three-hour length of the show.
“The other part of it was I knew beyond any doubt that Cris and I had great chemistry, because Cris and I, fortunately and mostly to his doing, became really good friends when we were out in Los Angeles. I was in LA without my wife and kids, basically going to work and going home, and once Cris got out there, he started, in the beginning, almost making me go to his house to watch games and hang out with him. So I knew he and I had a really good rapport and chemistry, and we’d done stuff on the air, and I knew that I really liked Jenna, I knew she was a true TV pro, but I didn’t know how Cris, Jenna and I would work for three hours a day.”
“And none of the tests were more than a half-hour long, and we only did so many of them, so I didn’t know. But we did it, and Jenna adds an element that is so important to the show and makes my life so much easier, and she’s been just a really good hang, and has not been afraid at all when she thinks I’m full of it or disagrees with one of us or wants to take something further. She’s an equal partner in the show. And she’s just been great. And having someone that’s done TV for that long at that high of a level, and I obviously am the neophyte to this, it just makes me so much more at ease. And that’s going to be the key for me. The key for me is to just be comfortable and do my thing and not think of the stage or the platform.”
In the lead-up to First Things First‘s launch, Wright has been adamant that it’s not a “debate” show. He said he doesn’t even think it’s fair for FS1 to be characterized as a debate network, as the only show they have that he sees meeting that criteria is Undisputed.
“FS1 has been branded by some as a debate network… and I don’t think the evidence supports that. I’m watching The Herd right now, that’s the first show that was launched under the new regime, FS1 2.0 if you will, and The Herd is obviously not a debate show. It’s Colin opining and explaining why you know that Tom Brady’s the best quarterback in the world because of your experience in Newark International Airport. And Colin’s the greatest in the world at that, but that’s not a debate show.”
“Speak For Yourself, I don’t consider it a debate show. It’s almost hard to compare it to any other show. Speak For Yourself, to me at least, is guys talking about the big stories of the day, but Jason [Whitlock] in particular brings a very different spin to it than you’d see elsewhere. And then you’ve got Undisputed, which is clearly and obviously a debate show, and that’s because one half of Undisputed is the guy that’s recognized as the best in the genre in Skip, and the other half of Undisputed is a guy who is, in my opinion, his perfect foil [Shannon Sharpe].”
“FS1 is the strong, opinionated personality network, I think that’s fair. To say we’re a debate network? We’re not. It wouldn’t make sense for Cris and I to do a true-to-form debate show because it wouldn’t play to each of our strengths. Now, like, in rehearsals for example, Matt Stafford signed this huge new deal, so that was a big topic, Cris felt ‘Of course you have to keep Matt Stafford,’ and I felt diametrically opposed, so in that segment, we debated. We went back and forth. But today, for example, we talked about LaVar Ball and the LaMelo shoe, and [Cris] and I were in total what I’d call violent agreement.”
“So our show is going to live and die on the relationships between the three people on the show. …And it’s going to live and die on people being interested in our very unique perspectives. Cris, one that played sports at the highest level imaginable, Jenna, one that has been a big fan but never in it, and me, one that I have been studying for this and kind of preparing for this job for 20 years. And that’s going to be whether people watch it or not. Not because we’re going to be arguing with each other all the time.”
Wright went on to say that while the discussion will be passionate, it’s not always going to be confrontational, and their timeslot (6:30-9:30 a.m. Eastern) plays a role in that.
“The other thing is, there is no part of the country where our show is not on in the morning. And I think it’s a tough sell if people think ‘Any day I turn them on, first thing in the morning when I’m bleary-eyed and getting my coffee, they’re going to be yelling at each other.’ That’s not to say I won’t yell occasionally, because sometimes I have trouble not yelling, but it’s not going to be set up where the format is as such.”
He then had some interesting things to say about debate, and the criticisms of it as manufactured.
“There’s a myth, and I totally get it because I didn’t understand it when I first started doing TV. Before Undisputed existed, when I used to watch First Take, I had the impression that I think a lot of people do, which is ‘If in every single segment these guys are diametrically opposed, how can it be authentic? How can you actually disagree on everything?’ And what I learned, because Cris and I actually filled in on Undisputed for a week, is that that is the brilliance of the producers.”
“If you want to do a quality and authentic, and that second word might be even more important than the first, debate show, but you want to keep to the big topics of the day, the way you do it is…let’s say it’s about to be Game One of the NBA Finals, and you say, ‘Okay, guys, we’ve got to talk Cavs-Warriors. Who do you think’s going to win?’ And both hosts say ‘Warriors.’ The producer’s then going to say ‘Okay, who do you think’s the most important player for the Warriors?’ Both people say ‘Kevin Durant.’ ‘Okay, who do you think’s the most important player for the Cavs?’ One guy says Kyrie, one guy says LeBron. Boom, that’s how we talk about the big topic of the day. So, if those shows are done properly, you always talk about the big topic of the day, but it’s the producer’s job to find where the conflict is. And that’s how they approach it. ”
“Now, Cris and I don’t have to stack the show like that, because we don’t have to find that disagreement. But that is something that I think a lot of people don’t understand, and it’s totally understandable. It’s like ‘How do you disagree about everything?’ It’s because they’re intentionally talking about the things where they disagree.”