Since leaving ESPN, Katie Nolan has talked a bit about the things she liked in her 2017-2021 stint with the company, but also about the challenges of fitting into a role with the Worldwide Leader. She’s now revealed some particularly interesting details on what happened there around her Always Late show in particular.
Nolan revealed those in a new appearance on BetRivers podcast Off Air with Julie Stewart-Binks. Here’s that podcast, with the key ESPN conversation starting around 18:30:
Here are some of those key Always Late comments from Nolan, including revealing that the show only came about after she pressed for it, and the move from ESPN+ to linear TV (ESPN2) in 2019 came after execs initially wanted to cancel the show:
“I went to ESPN, and I tried to do, like, ‘Okay, you brought me here because you liked Garbage Time, so we’re going to make a Garbage Time here, right?’ ‘Well, no, we were going to have you host, like, SportsCenter on Snapchat.’ And I was like ‘Yeah, but that takes 15 minutes, so then what? With my paycheck, clearly there’s got to be something else you want me to do.'”
“And mostly, for that, it was like you don’t want to be a woman who takes less because you don’t need more, and then you’re setting the bar low for any woman who comes after you. So I was like ‘Well, there must be more.’ And then there wasn’t, until we kind of pushed for there to be more. And then they were like ‘Well, we have ESPN+, you can put a show on there, but you can’t share any of it on the internet, because it has to be behind the paywall.’ So I was like ‘Well, that’s kind of a handcuff.'”
“So we just made this show. And the people that helped us make it were all fantastic. But the person in charge of us changed like every few weeks. So I never had anybody who was, like, going up the chain and being like ‘This is what we’re making.'”
“It just sort of didn’t stay. And then there was a point where they cancelled it, and I went into the office of somebody important like ‘You can’t cancel it!’ And out of that meeting, they put it on TV. So I didn’t know how it worked there, I didn’t know how decisions were made. …It was weird. But I loved it, and it was great, but it didn’t work. It didn’t happen, it didn’t pop off, it didn’t get supported by the network.”
Much of that fits with previous discussions around ESPN and Nolan, but there are some interesting details here. The network was very excited about her when they announced her hire in October 2017, saying she would “have a prominent digital presence while also making appearances across ESPN studio programming.” The next month, they announced plans for a podcast and a digital show with her. But as per Nolan’s comments here, that only actually came to fruition from her pushing, with the network mostly looking at her for that Snapchat show.
And things then got weirder still, at least from Nolan’s account here. That Always Late move to linear TV in 2019 was described in a New York Post headline as “ESPN’s plan to reignite Katie Nolan’s show,” and that seemed fair from the outside. But it’s fascinating to hear that ESPN initially tried to cancel the show before making that move to linear. And it should be noted that Always Late‘s 2020 cancellation (which was only officially revealed a year later) likely had a lot to do with the COVID-19 pandemic, with that show shifting to remote production and then stopping doing new episodes relatively early during the pandemic.
The larger points Nolan makes here about the importance of fit at ESPN and the importance of having an executive who goes to bat for you and your particular content have been stated by many. And some of the uncertainty, leadership changes, and seemingly-conflicted goals from ESPN Nolan discusses here have also been mentioned by others. They were really obvious with her, though, especially around the network signing her to an extension in 2020 and then promptly laying off Ashley Braband, her podcast co-host and producer. This fits into a larger narrative of different ESPN executives having wildly different content goals, and content plans changing significantly in a short span based on executive shifts. But it’s notable to get these specific details from Nolan.
[Off Air with Julie Stewart-Binks on Apple Podcasts]