Why SportsCenter with Michael Smith and Jemele Hill Didn't Work

Ryan Glasspiegel

Michael Smith and Jemele Hill never quite found their footing hosting the 6 pm SportsCenter — which was branded SC6 — and when it became clear that it was a matter of when and not if the show was coming to an end, their agendas began to diverge.

As SI’s Richard Deitsch reported, Jemele Hill will be leaving the program to write for The Undefeated and do other projects with ESPN. It remains to be seen what Michael Smith’s long-term status is.

For months, there have been murmurs — reliable, but not quite verifiable for print — of turmoil behind the scenes of the show, not necessarily with each other, but with the producers in Bristol charged with adjusting the show from being personality-driven to a much more traditional news-and-highlights SportsCenter.

Undeniably, these issues have bubbled to the forefront more over the past few months in the wake of Jemele Hill’s position as a national news subject after calling President Trump a white supremacist, and later remarking that a boycott of Cowboys sponsors – several of whom overlapped with ESPN – would be effective. However, there were creative concerns with the show immediately.

Mike and Jemele both spent years and years at ESPN searching for a stable home, and found it when Numbers Never Lie yielded way to His & Hers on ESPN2. While the show did not usually maintain the entire audience of its First Take lead-in, it was smart and fun and different and resonated on social media enough for them to attain the opportunity to co-host SC6.

It is only human that they saw this ascent as an affirmation of what they were doing. ESPN’s press release about the launch of SC6 — touting their personalities and chemistry — would further that belief. However, they were joining the legacy SportsCenter brand and the show immediately felt disjointed trying to blend the styles of where everyone and everything came from. This was exacerbated by the fact that different demographics watch daytime television than at 6 pm — and yes, there was a certain sect of viewers who were never going to give Mike and Jemele a chance.

SC6 came after ESPN successfully melded SportsCenter and the sports talk radio genre with Scott Van Pelt at midnight. However, SVP had a ton of experience with the SportsCenter brand. The audience was already familiar with him. He curated a tight-knit production crew.

SportsCenter has been described as being akin to an ocean tanker. You can’t steer the ship nimbly. Mike and Jemele’s sensibilities never melded with their producers – or their producers’ boss at the launch, Rob King. He was moved off SportsCenter to helm ESPN’s broader news operations in October – and this shift was clear from a narrative captured by The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis in September.

After the Trump comments and later suspension of Jemele Hill, things were inevitably going to be even more awkward, and as much as ESPN officials would deny deny deny, it was clear an expiration date was on the horizon.

Rob King was replaced by Norby Williamson as head of SportsCenter. Eventually, Dave Roberts, who oversees First Take, was put in charge with SC6. For the last several months, there was very little of the His & Hers dynamic. Mike and Jemele largely read the news from a teleprompter, or brought in outside reporters and analysts for their concentrated expertise. This was not the show they signed up for. It became clear the duo was unhappy with the show when they stopped promoting it on social media.

There was a brief glimmer of hope a couple months ago that perhaps, with then-ESPN president John Skipper still in Mike & Jemele’s corner, they could revert to His & Hers in ESPN’s daytime lineup. However, Smith parted ways with their mutual agent, Evan Dick of CAA, and from that point on it was apparent that the pair would be going in different directions.

It will be interesting to see where the two go from here. While Jemele Hill remains at ESPN for the time being, she told Richard Deitsch recently that she launched a production company, and she has myriad interests outside of sports.

Michael Smith is in a little bit of a bind as far as landing spots go. THR reports that he will host SportsCenter solo, as he did when Jemele Hill was suspended. However, it remains to be seen if that is a long-term role. ESPN is very high on Elle Duncan, and she is in line to find a home as an anchor soon. The network also may want to install long-time traditional hosts in that hour, like Sage Steele and/or John Anderson.