Jenny Taft is leaving Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe. Ryan Glasspiegel of the New York Post reported yesterday that Taft has signed a contract extension with Fox Sports that will tie her more to live events and less to studio appearances, which includes a departure from Undisputed.
Jenny Taft is finalizing a new deal to remain with Fox Sports, but eventually exit FS1’s “Undisputed,” The Post has learned.
First, Taft’s role with live events is expected to be her focus. She is a sideline reporter on Fox Sports’ top college football broadcasting team with Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt.
Fox’s broadcast teams for the World Cup have not been announced yet but it would hardly be shocking if Taft, who has contributed to them before, is included. With all of these responsibilities, she would have already been missing “Undisputed” on numerous occasions in the next 18 months.
FOX will now embark upon the search for her replacement, a job title that is more moderator than host. Regardless, whoever fills the role has significantly less screen time than Bayless or Sharpe, but somebody needs to be there to keep the pair on track. Here are a few in-house options, as the responsibilities of the role does not indicate a job that Fox will hire somebody from the outside for.
Thompson is one of Fox's home-grown success stories, starting as a member of the HR department before making her way up the ranks to an on-screen personality and eventually pivoting to ESPN before returning home to Fox. Thompson is currently host of FOX NFL Kickoff and does a great job there. Her growth within Fox and her current role both indicate she's well-liked and trusted within the company, which makes her a possible candidate to replace Taft, even if it's not permanent.
The thing about Undisputed, though, is that it's for grinders. The show starts at 9:30 a.m. ET but has a studio on the West Coast, which means everyone involved needs to be up before dawn to prepare and get ready to go for the start of the show. Thompson is more experienced at this point in her career than Taft or Joy Taylor were when they were originally tapped to moderate Skip and Shannon. Given her veteran status, Thompson has enough pull to do just about anything at Fox, and may not be leaping at the opportunity to work the kind of hours Undisputed demands. If she's on board, though, she'd be a good fit.
Hill is a jack-of-all-trades studio host for Fox Sports, currently hosting Inside The Big East and a variety of other studio shows for all the major American sports under the company umbrella. Like Thompson, he's been here a while, initially joining Fox in 2013 and a 20-year veteran of the industry. For the same reasons listed above, Hill may not be interested in this role due to its relatively demanding nature. But he's very good at setting the table for the personalities around him and Fox wouldn't need to worry one bit about whether or not the job would get done.
In the process of considering this after the Taft news, the question arose in my mind-- does Undisputed really need a moderator/official host? Taft played far less of a role in the minute-to-minute action of the show than her ESPN counterpart Molly Querim Rose plays on First Take, for example. Plenty of people would still tune in if it was just Skip and Shannon rambling for three hours. That's usually what ends up happening even with Taft trying to keep them on track. And the last year has given viewers some on-screen friction between the three.
There isn't a tremendous amount of value to be found in a replacement here because nobody can do the job better than Taft did. There is a hard ceiling on the impact the host of Undisputed can have on the show and on viewers simply by the nature of the gig. It's a good spot to help build a portfolio-- it undoubtedly played a role in why Fox gave Taft an extension, and Joy Taylor used it as a stepping stone to join Colin Cowherd in a somewhat similar position. But if there aren't any obvious choices and/or volunteers, Fox should think about just leaving it unfilled and rolling with Bayless and Sharpe. Worth considering.