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Stephen A. Smith 'Driving Force' in Failed Skip Bayless Reunion Attempt

Brian Giuffra
Mar 4, 2021, 3:40 PM EST
Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless.
Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless. | Larry Busacca/Getty Images
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Getting the old band back together for a reunion rarely works. The mystifying magic they once created is usually gone and what's left is a shell of the humans you once yearned to listen to at all hours of the day. And yet, from The Backstreet Boys to The Sex Pistols to The Police, so many groups have re-formed in hopes of creating that spark once again and ruling the airwaves as they once did.

Which brings us to Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless. Once the unquestioned kings of sports debate television pitted against each other on ESPN's First Take, the two broke up in 2016 with Bayless heading for FS1 and Smith straightening his roots at ESPN. They both have enjoyed success apart debating new opponents and seem happy with their current positions.

That made it all the more surprising to read Andrew Marchand's latest column saying ESPN made a huge push to sign Bayless away from FOX last fall and that Smith, "was a driving force in ESPN’s recruitment of Bayless." Now, "driving force" could mean a lot of things. Smith could have been the one pushing for a reunion or maybe he was simply part of ESPN's conglomerate selling Bayless on why this was a smart move. Either way, it's surprising to know Smith was so gung-ho about a reunion.

Since Bayless left ESPN, Smith has solidified himself as the No. 1 voice in sports debate television, winning the ratings and popularity war against Bayless and any other would-be challengers. He recently inked a lucrative contract extension with ESPN that expanded his profile at the network, including his recently-released solo show “Stephen A’s World,” on ESPN+.

The idea of reuniting Smith and Bayless was apparently for another ESPN+ show, not a First Take reprisal, according to Marchand. Disney is pushing the subscription service hard and in as many areas as it can so the initial interest in a reunion and the desire to see them paired again makes sense from that perspective. It also makes sense because the two remain friends, with Marchand saying they still meet up whenever Smith is in Los Angeles.

Yet what made Smith and Bayless so dynamic years ago was their originality. No duo was as bold or outlandish in the live TV debate game before they got together. Now each has a slew of disciples and debate shows have become a regular part of programing on every sports network, both television and radio. The competition has increased tenfold in the years since their breakup, which is also instructional in Smith's desire for a reunion.

Either way, It's better that this didn't work out. The sequel is rarely as good as the original. No matter how captivating the actors were, the magic is gone and it's better to look forward than back.

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