When Jemele Hill announced in January that she was leaving ESPN’s “SC6” — the name given to the network’s 6 p.m. Eastern version of “SportsCenter” — the only question remaining was not if co-host Michael Smith would be leaving, but when.
It appears we have the answer.
Sports Illustrated’s Richard Dietsch reported Thursday that Smith will be leaving “SC6” after Friday night’s broadcast.
ESPN confirmed Smith’s departure on Friday.
As expected, Michael Smith has followed Jemele Hill out the door https://t.co/NEkofo3oAE
— New York Post (@nypost) March 9, 2018
Norby Williamson, ESPN’s executive vice president and executive editor of studio production, said in a statement, “Michael is a talented commentator and we greatly appreciate and value his contributions and creativity. We are in the process of discussing with him potential next ESPN assignments.”
The statement did not specify who would be replacing Smith, other than saying the show will be hosted by “a variety of anchors” from the “SportsCenter” team.
His departure comes a little more than 13 months after he and Hill debuted as the show’s hosts. But what Hill and Smith were hosting became a very different program than the two had anticipated.
Hill and Smith were expecting to have much more creative control over their version of “SportsCenter” than they were given. It was assumed the show would be much more opinionated than a traditional “SportsCenter” and more like the old “His & Hers” show Hill and Smith used to co-host. Even in announcing the show, ESPN claimed that “SC6” would have a “format geared to fit Smith and Hill’s personalities.”
But John Skipper, who was ESPN’s president when the show debuted, left the network abruptly in December, citing a battle with substance abuse. Williamson took over, and reportedly wanted the show to be more like a traditional “SportsCenter” program.
Hill said she left the show because she wanted to contribute to ESPN’s TheUndefeated.com, a website focusing on African-American athletes. But it also came after the network suspended her for twice violating its social media policies when she called President Donald Trump and his supporters white supremacists and urged fans to boycott advertisers of the Dallas Cowboys after team owner Jerry Jones demanded his players stand for the national anthem.
Smith’s departure, according to The Hollywood Reporter, wasn’t voluntary. He had a three-year contract to be the anchor of the 6 p.m. show.
Smith not only seemed uncomfortable being the lone anchor of the show, but he lacks the on-camera personality of the network’s more recognized “SportsCenter” hosts.
Perhaps more importantly, however, he also has been very public in his criticism for how ESPN management changed the tone of the show.
“There was a time [Jemele and I] weren’t even talking to each other [on the program] anymore,” Smith said recently on James Andrew Miller’s “Origins” podcast. “Like no more Michael and Jemele, not less, not here and there. No more Michael and Jemele talking. No more of their commentary. It’s just strictly live shots and analysts. That’s what pissed me off so much.
“I’m like, ‘So wait a second, you all acknowledge that one of the strengths that we have going for us as a show is Michael and Jemele’s chemistry, but Michael and Jemele don’t f—ing talk to each other? How does that make sense?’”
Smith pointed the finger at Williamson for keeping the show away from social issues.
“It was very frustrating,” he said. “Behind the scenes and on camera … they got what they wanted, which was Michael and Jemele being muted. And that frustrated the s— out of us.”
Asked in January if he thought Hill wanted off the show because its format had become so different from what it was when the program debuted, Williamson said it was entirely likely.
“I think there is probably an element of truth in that,” Williamson said. “That can happen anytime you start something from a certain point or certain direction and then you evolve certain products. … As you tweak different things, people come to the realization that this is not exactly for me.”
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