Michael Smith Explains Why His ‘SportsCenter’ With Jemele Hill Failed: ‘Bad Fit. Just a Bad Fit’

“I really wish we would have eased the viewer into what we were trying to do,” Smith tells The Athletic

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Michael Smith knows exactly why he and Jemele Hill’s ill-fated run as the anchors of the 6 p.m. edition of “SportsCenter” lasted only 13 months: “a bad fit.”

“Just a bad fit, and I think worse than a bad fit, we moved too quickly,” the ex-ESPN employee said in a lengthy interview with The Athletic. Smith and Hill debuted their edition of “SportsCenter,” called “SC6” (or “The Six”), on Feb. 6, 2017, and it would last just 13 months.

Hill and Smith, who spent years co-hosting the daytime program “His and Hers,” were set to be the faces of a “new era” for “SportsCenter,” ESPN’s legacy news show, which was bleeding viewership at the same time the network was losing subscribers. The brass at ESPN, at the time led by former president John Skipper, wanted to build “SportsCenter” more around personalities, rather than being the network’s version of the Nightly News.

But in Smith’s opinion, that’s where they got it wrong.

“We should have spent way more time in the lab how we were going to merge these two brands if that was, in fact, the goal, to make ‘SportsCenter’ more like ‘His and Hers,’” he said. “If that is what we were going to do, we should have spent more time working on that.”

Smith said that the way things worked at “SportsCenter” — where producers have much more editorial control — was far different compared to “His and Hers,” where he and Hill had almost complete control. He argued that the change from “SportsCenter” from what viewers had been accustomed to over its 40 years to a more talk-show driven format they were bringing from “His and Hers” was too jarring — for everyone.

“The Friday before the Super Bowl in February 2017 —  the Super Bowl between the Patriots and Falcons — was a quote, unquote traditional ‘SportsCenter.’ On Monday, it is a talk show. Like, I can say this: Who did we think we were?” he said. “‘SportsCenter’ is too iconic a brand and is too ingrained in our culture for it to go from selling hamburgers on Friday to pizza on Monday, even if it was really good pizza.”

Smith left ESPN last month to join Los Angeles-based start-up studio, (co)laboratory, which is focused on original content around sports. Smith will serve as chief content officer and executive vice president, and is one of the company’s first hires. He will provide creative direction on (co)lab projects, identify new business opportunities and revenue-driving initiatives, and assist with on-camera development training for athletes.

Regarding Hill’s infamous tweet in September 2017 where she called President Donald Trump a “white supremacist,” Smith said he felt ESPN handled it “as best they could.”

“This is a crazy period we are in given the resident in charge, given the occupant of the White House, and how he goes about things,” he explained. “So I don’t know how they should have handled it. I don’t know what the right way is to handle it.”

He added that the end of “SC6” was “in motion” before Hill’s tweet. She would later get suspended for a tweet where she called for viewers to boycott companies that associated with the Dallas Cowboys, whose owner Jerry Jones, said he would bench any player who took a knee during the National Anthem before games. Hill left ESPN last year.

“It was in motion before that,” Smith said. “The tweet is obviously a flashpoint, but it just accelerated the process.”

Read the entire interview in The Athletic here.