There’s been a lot of discussion about First Take lately ahead of its Jan. 3 move from ESPN2 to ESPN, with ESPN and Fox executives going back and forth this week on the two networks’ debate shows and philosophies. Bringing First Take to the main ESPN channel shows that Bristol still values debate, too, and they have some big plans in mind for their featured debate show. First Take producer (and VP of ESPN Audio network content) Dave Roberts spoke to Multichannel News’ R. Thomas Umstead this week about the move and what new things are coming with it, specifically more on-location shows:
MCN: How big is the move from ESPN2 to ESPN for the show?
DR: The timing of it is perfect because we’re getting ready to go into this season where we’re talking about the college football playoffs, and we’re going to be onsite for that. We’re going to be onsite for Super Bowl week in Houston, the NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans and as well as onsite for the NFL draft in Philadelphia. Those kinds of major events present a huge opportunity to expose First Take to an even larger audience watching on ESPN. It’s an opportunity that fortunately we’re in a position to take advantage of.
Going on the road is not done lightly, as there are significant costs to producing shows while at an event (not to mention logistical hurdles), which is why even many live games are being called from remote studios these days. Investing in First Take heading to all of those events shows how much importance ESPN places on the franchise, and it proves that they’re still very focused on embracing debate too. Interestingly enough, another change involves new solo segments; not debate, but rather essays.
MCN: Will there be any tweaks on the set or within the program that viewers should look forward to?
DR: There will be a few tweaks. Final Take is one of the things that we’ve already done by adding a segment at the end of the show where the talent will offer up a final take or commentary on a topic of their choice. Stephen A. Smith has kicked it off, and eventually you’ll hear from Max and you’ll hear even from Molly. But the most important focus for me will be the actual content, and by that I mean how we decide the topics that we’re going to discuss and to make sure that everyone has a voice in what those topics will be each and every day.
Roberts also talks about how “we will not overreact to anything that our competition does” and “our position is that we’re operating from a position of strength,” so according to him at least, First Take is going to keep to its own course rather than try and see what Fox shows like Undisputed and Speak For Yourself are doing. The increased road trips are certainly an interesting choice, and they indicate that this show is a strong priority for ESPN (as does inserting it elsewhere, as they did with a live First Take segment at the half of the final Monday Night Football broadcast of the year this past Monday). We’ll see if they bring enough of an audience boost to make it worthwhile.