A debate on First Take bewteen Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith, ESPN, 2014.

Jamie Horowitz is taking the Embrace Debate bandwagon to network television.

ESPN’s Vice President of Original Programming and Production is leaving Bristol and heading to NBC, where he will be the Senior VP and GM of the Today Show.  This, according to the dean of television reporting, Bill Carter of the New York Times:

The First Take producer had long been rumored to make the move to Today, but ESPN held firm insisting that he see out his contract with the network.

There’s no questioning Horowitz’s television talent, and his polarization.  He’s clearly a very successful individual as many of his shows, including First Take, have drawn high ratings for ESPN.  In addition, Olbermann the show has garnered critical success since its launch several months ago, proof that ESPN (and Horowitz) could produce entertaining, informative original programming without reducing everything to its lowest common denominator.

Today has fallen behind Good Morning America in the ratings and desperately needs a spark to rejuvenate the sleeping giant.  They’re hoping Horowitz can provide it with his track record at ESPN.  It’s been a significant time in the morning show derby with Today snatching Horowitz from ESPN (and ABC/Disney) coming weeks after signing Josh Elliott away from GMA for a role at NBC Sports.

But make no mistake about it, Horowitz and the Embrace Debate movement have also produced some of the worst programming in the 35 year history of ESPN.  First Take is everything wrong with today’s sporting culture.  Need proof?  Remember when Rob Parker called RGIII a “cornball brother“?  How about when He Who Shall Not Be Named started telling tall tales about his high school basketball career?  Never mind the lunacy of this, this, this, this, and this.  First Take also had the dubious distinction of being named one of the 20 Worst Shows in Television.  ESPN’s President compared it to ridiculous reality television in defending the harm its done to ESPN’s brand.

It will be very interesting to see if this moment represents a turning point in ESPN’s identity as a network.  They’ve taken so many hits for so long over the Embrace Debate movement (99.9% of them justifiably so I might add) that this represents a time to hit the reset button.  It represents an opportunity to draw out the best of their original programming and emphasize high quality television programs (like PTI or Highly Questionable or OTL) by starting over on shows like First Take.  I’m not hopeful that they will and The Dark Lord will likely still run amok as he always has, but at least the opportunity will be there.

Furthermore, another major question is which direction will The Today Show travel?  Will it try to turn to smart, informative, entertaining television to try to win viewers back from GMA?  Or will it resort to debates between Al Roker and Matt Lauer on who really should have won The Voice?  Will Hoda and Kathie Lee embrace debate regarding whether or not President Obama possesses the “clutch gene”?

For the sake of the nation and the television industry as a whole, I sure hope it’s not the latter.

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