ESPN has decided to cancel its longtime Sunday morning talk show, The Sports Reporters. As reported by Sports Illustrated‘s Richard Deitsch, the show will end its nearly 30-year run in May.
Debuting in 1988, The Sports Reporters was ESPN’s answer to Sunday morning political talk shows, featuring three to four panelists who were typically columnists from major metropolitan newspapers (often East Coast publications, by virtue of the show taping in New York City). Though some might say the show was the beginning of “hot take” culture, discussions were often quieter and more thoughtful (fitting for Sunday morning) than the debate shows we typically see during the week on ESPN and FS1 now.
Frequent panelists included Mike Lupica (who essentially became an institution on the program, as the most frequent panelist), Bob Ryan, Bill Conlin and Tony Kornheiser. Plenty of other reporters and columnists joined the mix throughout the show’s run, among them Mitch Albom, William C. Rhoden, Roy S. Johnson, the late Bryan Burwell, Christine Brennan, Jason Whitlock, Jeremy Schaap, Israel Gutierrez and Jemele Hill.
Gary Thorne was the initial host of The Sports Reporters, but was soon replaced by Dick Schaap, who became the face of the show. Schaap hosted the show regularly until 2001. After hosting a panel following the events of 9/11, Schaap never again appeared on the program. What few knew at the time was that Schaap’s health was deteriorating until his death in late December of that year.
Frequent guest host John Saunders then took over what seemed like a thankless role, replacing Dick Schapp on the show most associated with him. But Saunders eventually made the show his own, not only moderating discussions thoughtfully but saving some sharp commentaries for the “Parting Shots” segments at the end of each episode. He was The Sports Reporters‘ moderator and face of the show until passing away last year.
Since Saunders’ death, Mike Lupica has served as the show’s host. But The Sports Reporters just doesn’t have the same presence on ESPN’s airwaves that it once did, especially without a stately leader like Schaap or Saunders guiding the discussion. When the show began, sports reporters and columnists weren’t the frequent presence on television, radio and podcasts that they are now, when they’re practically ubiquitous on ESPN programming.
At the time, it was compelling to see names from the newspaper such as Lupica, Ryan and Kornheiser on TV, adding visual personality to their written words. Sometimes, the mix probably should have been freshened up a bit more as the same faces tended to be on the panel. But if you enjoyed seeing some combination of Lupica, Ryan, Kornheiser and Conlin each week, that probably didn’t matter much.
The mix of panelists changed in later years as the internet allowed more columnists to be read by wider audiences throughout the country. (As a Michigan native, I thought it felt like validation for Albom to break into the club as he emerged as a national voice, eventually becoming a mainstay on the show.) When the show moved to Bristol, more ESPN personalities like Hill and Gutierrez tended to be part of the show.
Deitsch reports that ESPN will replace The Sports Reporters with a Sunday morning edition of E:60.