Horowitz’s potential departure sent shockwaves through ESPN, where he is regarded as one of the brightest TV minds at the network and part of President John Skipper’s inner circle. After Deadspin broke the story, sources say Horowitz quickly had to call the talent from the shows he oversees – like Keith Olbermann, Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless – all of whom were caught off guard by the news.
If Horowitz does leave – it’s not a done deal, but multiple sources at ESPN seem to think it’s going to happen – Olbermann will take the news hardest. [Second hardest? Michelle Beadle, who one might argue was ‘discovered’ by Horowitz when he gave her a co-host spot on Sports Nation. She’s returning to ESPN … just as Horowitz might be leaving.] When Olbermann famously returned to ESPN last Fall, Horowitz was assigned with producing the show nightly in New York City. Given Olbermann’s history, Horowitz was one of the few producers at the network capable of handling the brilliant-but challenging broadcaster.
According to an industry source, NBC’s courtship of Horowitz began in October, and accelerated in December when he met Today Show host Matt Lauer. On January 17th, NBC announced it was making a change on the NBC News Leadership Senior Leadership team. The Today Show had won the morning TV ratings game for 16 straight years before losing to ABC’s Good Morning America in the second half of 2012 and all of 2013.
The problem? Horowitz would have to break his ESPN contract to leave for The Today Show. An industry source said that if he does depart, he’ll have to concede this in his contract: No poaching. That would mean Kevin Wildes, a producer who is regarded as Horowitz’s No. 2, wouldn’t be going anywhere – for now. But can Wildes handle the Stephen A. Smith vs. Skip Bayless ego battles that went on behind-the-scenes in 2013?
While ESPN and NBC wait, have fun with this one: Check out the latest people Horowitz is following on twitter. Although he rarely tweets, he devours the social media site, and, well:
It’ll be a tense few days in Bristol, that’s for sure. Horowitz didn’t return a phone call or text message this afternoon seeking comment.