Is There Tension Between ESPN Shows First Take and Numbers Never Lie?


First Take and Numbers Never Lie, two debate-heavy ESPN TV shows, air live, back-to-back, twice a week. The format for both shows is similar, although topics obviously vary. First Take  features media veterans Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith – a pair prone to shouting – while the latter skews younger, with Jemele Hill and Michael Smith.

Numbers Never Lie has had many incarnations over the years, but a few months ago, it settled on a format: Smith (a former Boston Globe reporter who has been with the show since its inception) and Hill, who is also a columnist on Recently, the show hit a milestone: Numbers Never Lie became the No. 2 rated show on ESPN2 on Mondays and Tuesdays. The rest of the week, it’s slightly below Mike & Mike (numbers below).

Something to get excited about, right?

You’d think that. Instead, multiple sources tell me that there is an underlying tension between the shows – almost a big brother/little brother situation.

Yes, Smith and Hill are friendly with Bayless and Smith. Stephen A. Smith was on their podcast last week. On the surface, the quartet (eh, you can toss in FT host Cari Champion, too) get along. But sources connected to both shows say that the reaction to the sudden rise of NNL has been one of, “yeah, well, that’s because you have the First Take lead-in.”

To which NNL replies, “yeah, well you have the Mike & Mike lead-in.”

Television squabbles are the best, aren’t they?

If you’re scoring at home, the First Take averaged a .30 in October (350k viewers). Just looking at Monday and Tuesday ratings for Numbers Never Lie over the last month, the show is getting a .24 (273k viewers). Over the same time period, Mike & Mike is getting a .20 (235k viewers).

According to internal ESPN metrics, 2/3 of viewers who watch First Take on Monday and Tuesday stick around for NNL. The creator of both shows, Jamie Horowitz, has tried to develop a family atmosphere between the shows, implementing a “live throw” from one show to the next in hopes of retaining viewers.

Which has led to the next issue: Horowitz has spent most of his time recently working with Keith Olbermann’s new show in New York. On the rare day he’s in Bristol, sources say there’s a mini tug-of-war between the shows for his time. NNL wants his time in hopes of catching First Take; First Take wants his ear to hold off little brother who is growing quicker than imagined.

These aren’t necessarily bad problems to have if you’re ESPN. It won’t be long – Fall of 2014? – before Fox Sports 1 is rolling out daytime TV options to challenge ESPN. Will NBC Sports Network and CBS Sports Network be far behind?