Since its 1990 beginnings, Outside The Lines has been a key part of ESPN’s enterprise journalism efforts in some form. That included runs as a daily show from 2003-19, a Sunday-specific show from 2001-17, and OTL-branded segments within other shows (especially SportsCenter) plus an early Saturday morning standalone show from 2020 through last summer. Now, John Ourand of Sports Business Journal has the news that the Saturday morning show (which has usually run from after the Super Bowl until the start of football season) will not be returning:
ESPN is not bringing back "Outside the Lines" as a standalone linear TV show.
SBJ has the details:https://t.co/FWHShHpRfQ
— John Ourand (@Ourand_SBJ) February 3, 2023
Here’s more from Ourand’s piece:
Staffers were told Thursday night that the Saturday morning edition of the long-running show will not return after the Super Bowl. In past years, ESPN halted production of the standalone “OTL” show in August, and it would return the show to its TV schedule the week after the Super Bowl. The move to shelve the TV show this year will not result in any job losses. Some staff will head to other studio programs. ESPN will continue to push the “OTL” brand in other shows and platforms. “OTL on SC” will be part of multiple “SportsCenters” seven days a week; currently, it is a segment on the noon version of “SportsCenter” on weekdays. ESPN also plans to push “OTL”-branded content on its digital platforms, including ESPN’s YouTube channel.
This is just the latest shift for OTL. In 2019, around the cancellation of the daily show, ESPN executive vice president and executive editor/event & studio production Norby Williamson cited that cancellation and shift to OTL-branded segments elsewhere (including on SportsCenter) and a Saturday standalone OTL show as an expansion that would “impact more people.” And in 2020, host Jeremy Schaap (seen above hosting OTL in February 2021) had his work on the Saturday show described as “being asked to anchor ESPN’s journalism” by OTL executive producer Andy Tennant, despite that show only being given a 9 a.m. ET timeslot by the network. Now, there won’t be a standalone OTL to anchor that journalism at all, and some of the staffers who had been working on OTL will be going elsewhere.
Of course, ESPN’s journalism is not entirely about OTL. There’s also E60, both with specials and with segments. And there’s lots of online and cross-platform work on a variety of fronts. And there’s even a notable group of new and re-signed journalists announced this week. But a standalone OTL show has been a major part of that journalism approach for more than two decades. And that’s now changing.
Some of this is about shifts in media consumption. As Ourand notes, the standalone OTL was averaging 303,000 viewers Saturday mornings last year, with SportsCenter: AM averaging 572,000 in that 9 a.m. Saturday slot so far in 2023. While OTL has continued to do a lot of important work, both in the daily segments and in the standalone show, the standalone show hasn’t been pulling in great numbers.
And there is an expansion of the numbers of segments OTL will do in various SportsCenter incarnations here, moving beyond just the noon ET one. The YouTube emphasis also has some merit; that should make it easier for viewers to catch OTL segments they’re particularly interested in without having to get in front of a TV and sit through the rest of SportsCenter, and many of OTL’s segments should do well on the web. (And ESPN deserves some kudos for emphasizing free, advertising-supported segments on YouTube rather than paywalled segments on ESPN+ or in authentication-required portions of the ESPN app.) But, with all that said, this is still another change for OTL, and a significant one with the end of its standalone show and some accompanying reassignments.
As Ourand writes, the end of OTL as a standalone show does come with the return of another show, though. That would be The Sports Reporters. ESPN carried The Sports Reporters from 1988-2017, first hosted by Gary Thorne (1988), then by Jeremy Schaap’s father Dick (1988-2001), then by John Saunders (2001-2016), then by Mike Lupica (2016-17). Now, Jeremy Schaap will be hosting a new version of this, which will launch in the next few months. At the moment, it’s planned to only air on ESPN’s YouTube channel. We’ll see what further developments come on that front.
[Photo from Melissa Rawlins/ESPN Images]