Craig Carton details friendship with Bill Belichick Photo credit: The Carton Show

When Craig Carton was sentenced to prison for orchestrating a fraudulent multi-million-dollar ticket reselling scheme, the judge presiding over the case said his career was in “tatters” and his reputation was “lost.”

“Craig Carton, you have indeed descended into a hell of your own making,” said Chief Judge Colleen McMahon on that fateful day in Manhattan federal court. “Everything you spent a lifetime of building up is gone.”

But as it turns out, Judge McMahon was being hyperbolic, and speaking like a sports talk radio host herself. While Carton was sentenced to three and a half years behind bars, he was released after serving a little over a year. Roughly four months later, he was back on WFAN, and seated in a familiar drive time slot.

Carton’s prison sentence didn’t destroy his career. Instead, it barely derailed it. And now, he’s received his biggest professional break yet: a seven-figure contract with Fox Sports.

Carton, who launched his own FS1 show last fall, announced last week he’s joining the network full-time this summer. He’s gone from prison inmate to national TV host in less time than a full presidential term.

This is the opposite of cancel culture. Carton’s resurrection is amazing.

Or maybe it isn’t, considering the power of the hot take. Either way, a national network is going all-in on a convicted criminal who defrauded fans to fuel his gambling addiction.

And the craziest part is, Carton has never proven he can draw ratings on a national level. In fact, “The Carton Show” has been a complete bust.

Back in September 2017, Carton resigned from his WFAN morning duties after being arrested by the FBI on charges that he ran a Ponzi-like scheme. Carton and his partner solicited investments from victims, including a Manhattan hedge fund, and claimed they were using that money to buy and sell concert tickets.

Except, they weren’t. Carton was using that money to pay off his ever-increasing gambling debt. In an HBO documentary, he said he borrowed over $30 million to gamble with.

As part of his 2018 sentencing, he was ordered to pay nearly $5 million in restitution.

With gambling ads now ubiquitous across sports programming, Carton, and his viewers and listeners, are reminded of his criminal past during nearly every commercial break. For his part, Carton is the face of the sportsbook FanDuel’s efforts to combat problem gambling, and hosts a Saturday show on WFAN about the same topic.

But still: there is something untoward, or at least odd, about sports betting companies throwing money around to support Carton, a man whose illegal efforts to fund his gambling addiction sent him to prison.

But that’s life in sports media these days. Radio stations and TV networks are throwing themselves at every last gambling dollar. Desperate execs view the cash as their final life raft, ethics and optics be damned.

It didn’t take long for Carton to regain his swagger when he returned to WFAN in Fall 2020. Carton and Evan Roberts demolished ESPN’s Michael Kay in the afternoon ratings, nearly tripling him in the last book. Carton put a stop to the legacy station’s post-Francesa faltering.

With that in mind, it’s understandable why Audacy, WFAN’s parent company, pushed so hard to repair Carton. But Fox’s fascination with the loudmouth host is harder to fathom.

“The Carton Show” debuted to strikingly low ratings, and hasn’t gotten much better. The program averaged 58,000 viewers per episode during the last week of May, making it one of FS1’s lowest-rated offerings. The Skip Bayless-led “Undisputed” averaged 173,000 viewers per episode during that same period, and “First Things First” and Colin Cowherd’s simulcast each averaged 130,000 eyeballs per show.

At a glance, “The Carton Show” resembles every other sports debate show on TV. Carton and his cohort of ex-athletes–often Brandon Jennings, Tim Hardaway and Cody Decker–gab about the day’s trending topics and fill their analysis with plenty of cliches. Take their recent discussion about Shohei Ohtani, for example.

Carton, who stands while the former athletes sit, creating this weird teacher-student vibe, declared the Angels star can’t be the best player in sports if his team never makes the postseason.

As our Sean Keeley put it, that’s some serious sports-talk radio brain. Ohtani can’t pitch for the Angels every night or take every spot in the batting order. But alas: he’s not a winner! Your calls are next.

The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand writes there is “hope among some at FS1” that Carton will perform better on TV once he’s free of his radio duties. Indeed, he was working an absurd schedule. Carton would wake up at 2:30 a.m. for TV, and not get home until after 8:00 p.m. It’s hard to believe those hours were conducive to making the best programming possible.

But is a better-rested Carton worth an additional 80,000-100,000 viewers per episode? .

In other words, Carton’s work is cut out for him.

Years ago, FS1 simulcasted Mike Francesa’s radio show, hoping his presence would boost the then-nascent network. But that didn’t happen, despite Francesa’s national name recognition. The partnership was a DISASTAH!

It’s hard to determine what Fox Sports execs see in Carton, who carries far more baggage than other sports talkers. He may spew hot takes with the best of them, but hasn’t demonstrated any ability to generate buzz. “The Carton Show’s” Twitter account doesn’t even boast 8,000 followers.

Bayless goes viral on a near-daily basis. Carton’s clips, meanwhile, often barely attract a dozen “likes.”

Fox Sports is taking a strange bet here. May they enjoy better luck at the table than their ex-convict morning host.