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Saturday, June 22, 2024

Shannon Sharpe Positioned As Perfect Successor To Stephen A. Smith

  • Smith only has two years left on his current deal and is eyeing entertainment, politics, and acting.
  • Sharpe will get revenge on Skip Bayless regardless, joining a show with an audience nearly 3 times the size of “Undisputed.”
Shannon Sharpe
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

They say living well is the best revenge, and now Shannon Sharpe could pull off sweet career retribution on his estranged ex-partner Skip Bayless.

On Thursday, only two months after Sharpe ended his successful six-year run with Bayless on FS1’s “Undisputed,” he confirmed he was joining Stephen A. Smith and Molly Qerim on ESPN’s “First Take.” 

With one stroke, the 55-year-old Sharpe has positioned himself as Smith’s successor if or when the face of ESPN departs for entertainment, acting, or politics. Smith only has two years left on his current deal and has talked about eventually moving to late-night TV.

Few among Smith’s new “First Take” ensemble – including Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, Marcus Spears, or Ryan Clark — possess Sharpe’s debate chops after years of verbal combat with Bayless.

Smith is not going anywhere – for now. But if he does, Sharpe could inherit a morning TV juggernaut that nearly triples Bayless’ audience: In June, “First Take’s” audience of 421,000 average viewers was 2.7 times the size of “Undisputed” (154,000). 

The weekday show has ranked No. 1 in its time slot for a decade. Despite a slow sports season in July, “First Take” grew its audience 26% to 363,000 viewers — and posted its 12th straight month of year-over-year growth.

“Payback’s a bitch. This could be payback time for Shannon and Skip,” said a source.

Former ESPNer and Fox Sports personality Marcellus Wiley was also asked about Sharpe succeeding Smith on his YouTube show. His verdict: “Now that’s dope.”  

There’s no doubt that Bayless is a TV pioneer and the Godfather of “Embrace Debate.” Sharpe arguably owes him much of his recent success — not to mention Smith credits Bayless with saving his career in 2012.

But during their six-year business marriage, the Pro Football Hall of Famer became more and more unhappy with their relationship. Sharpe was paid well below Bayless’ $8 million annual salary, said sources. Within the network and the show, he was never treated as an equal by Bayless or FS1 executives.

The domineering Bayless has the final say on everything involved with “Undisputed,” said sources. Sharpe was there to be his foil.

As the New York Post reported: “People close to Sharpe said privately he did not seek to be the unquestioned leader on the show, but wanted to be an equal with Bayless in the program’s topic selection.”

The tensions boiled over on the air after the Damar Hamlin incident on “Monday Night Football” in January.

When Sharpe tried to explain why he didn’t show up the morning after Bayless’ insensitive Hamlin tweet, his partner quickly interrupted him.

“I cannot even get through a monologue without you interrupting me,” Sharpe complained.

Previously, things got heated during a debate about quarterback Tom Brady. Sharpe accused Bayless of taking “personal shots” at him to defend his pet quarterback. He was so angry, he threw down his glasses.

“You make it seem like I was a bum. I’m in the effin’ Hall of Fame. I’ve got three Super Bowls,” shouted Sharpe.

“Put your glasses back on,” Bayless shot back.

On the other hand, if Sharpe was being groomed as Smith’s eventual successor, ESPN would likely have bought his popular “Club Shay Shay” podcast, said another source. Or given him a role on NFL studio shows such as “Monday Night Countdown.”

Instead, Sharpe’s Club Shay Shay Media is partnering with Colin Cowherd’s new digital platform, The Volume.

Either way, Sharpe looks to be in a pole position. He can keep his debate skills sharp against Smith on Mondays and Tuesdays, grow his podcast empire with Cowherd, and possibly land a lucrative gig with a sports betting platform. 

After writing Pat McAfee’s annual $30 million deal off the books, FanDuel has held early talks with Sharpe, said sources. 

As a bonus, Sharpe doesn’t have to get up in the middle of the night anymore to film a show between 6:30-9 a.m. PT.

Bayless’ “Undisputed” returns from hiatus Aug. 28, with a revamped cast including Michael Irvin, Richard Sherman, Lil Wayne and possibly Keyshawn Johnson.

When Sharpe tweeted his “First Take” news Thursday morning, he pictured himself in an ESPN jersey about to throw down a thunderous dunk on an opponent. The only thing missing was an image of Bayless.

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