There is no sugarcoating it: Get Up has been a profound disappointment from both an audience and content perspective, and it’s really starting to feel like the time to consider wholesale changes in an attempt to salvage the show.
The biggest reason is the chemistry. There is no sense, to me, that Mike Greenberg, Michelle Beadle, and Jalen Rose are inspired by each other emotionally or intellectually. At times when the three are laughing, it can almost feel contrived, like they know there should be mutual levity there but have to strain a little to muster it.
The strategy of launching the show on April 2nd was to take advantage of the NBA playoffs, which for the first three rounds were about as hot as promised. While there were some promising days in there for viewership, many of those presumably more casual viewers who had a chance to sample are not returning in these dog days.
The topic selection on the show is not the issue. They discuss most of the same news and debates as the rest of the generalist shows (i.e. not The Jump or NFL Live, which delve more deeply into their respective sports) in ESPN’s weekday lineup. It comes back to the hosts just frankly not gelling well together and producing what is a supremely skippable conversation.
We have heard assurances that this show has at least through the football season to prove it merits a continued existence, but if it were me I’d do a dramatic overhaul. If I were booking the show, I would replace Michelle Beadle with Maria Taylor, who guest-hosted during the NBA Finals and for whatever reason immediately clicked better with Greeny than Beadle has in 2+ months.
It’s hard to explain exactly why chemistry works sometimes and others it doesn’t, but it was just noticeable that Taylor brought a fresher energy to the show. I brought this up on a podcast with Richard Deitsch, and the next day Michael McCarthy of Sporting News made a similar observation:
Beadle and Jalen are basketball-first personalities, and I’m in agreement with McCarthy that they should beef up the football presence a bit. In addition to Taylor, who works sidelines on ESPN’s top college football team, Dianna Russini and Ryan Clark, who have both been on the show, would be strong regular fixtures.
The NBA is a 12-month conversation now, and Jalen should remain a daily presence for those discussions, but I’d put him on football a little more sparingly.
I will admit a few things: I didn’t expect the show to be successful, though it has surprised me the extent to which it has disappointingly performed. I also thought Beadle would be as good an option as anybody in the company after Charissa Thompson was informally offered the role but opted to stay at Fox. But, I just don’t get the sense that this is ever going to work as the hosts are presently constructed.
The best idea here would probably be to keep the set, but call it SportsCenter. It puts Get Up in the rear-view, and the SportsCenter brand is in my opinion stronger than it’s been in years. An ESPN press release said that Scott Van Pelt’s midnight SportsCenter was up 62% in May; on May 27th, following Cavs-Celtics Game 7, it averaged 4.2 million viewers (virtually the whole month benefitted from a great first three rounds of the NBA playoffs). 6PM SportsCenter with Sage Steele and Kevin Negandhi is also really pleasant to watch as the pregame show for the evening in sports.
There are a lot of outside reasons you can give for why Get Up is struggling with ratings. Andrew Marchand brought up NFL Network and MLB Network, where people can watch about the sports they care about. Neither of these two, and throw in First Things First on FS1, are in the realm of ESPN’s audience (though Undisputed is getting there for its first half-hour versus Get Up’s last, before ESPN gains a big lead in viewership with First Take), but collectively they’ve definitely chipped away at it. They were a non-factor 5+ years ago. Clay Travis brought up that less young men are unemployed right now, and that could eat into ESPN’s daytime audience.
The last three days have been particularly bad for Get Up viewers — under 200,000 on Thursday and Friday, slightly over on Monday — in large part because a lot of people would prefer to watch live sports in the World Cup than people talking about NBA free agency and trying to psychoanalyze Tom Brady’s Oprah interview.
It’s weird: many of us consider the halcyon days of SportsCenter to be the 1990’s. At that time, they didn’t have original programming all morning. We’d watch re-runs of the episodes in the mornings and eventually memorize the jokes. There’s no way that would fly today, though. Not when we all saw the highlights we care about the night before and opinions are freaking everywhere.
Even with all the constraints, I reject the notion that there is nothing ESPN could do to succeed in the morning. First Take, which immediately spikes in viewership, proves that. There isn’t some magical potion that makes someone want sports content at 10 a.m. that he/she didn’t want at 9. But I also can’t stand here and pitch an idea that I’m certain would double the audience and be so great it drew people away from the other sports networks, the light news morning programs, or the Trump reality show that is somehow still inexorably churning three years later.
But if they don’t try something different than the status quo for Get Up soon, ESPN risks a sustained loss of audience that would not be easy to win back.