Thursday November 30, 2023

All Rise: Skip Bayless Could Star In Solo Courtroom Debate Show

  • Possible show would have ‘Judge Skip’ deciding sports debates.
  • FS1 needs to ‘justify’ Bayless' $7 million salary by giving him second show.
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Fox Sports
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Move over, Judge Judy. Skip Bayless could nominate himself as the supreme judge of sports television debate. 

Fox Sports has had discussions internally about creating a faux courtroom show starring the 69-year-old Bayless, sources tell Front Office Sports. 

Nothing has been finalized. The Judge Skip concept is one of several solo ideas on the drawing board for the controversial co-host of FS1’s “Skip & Shannon: Undisputed” morning debate show. If approved, it would air on weekday afternoons, said sources. 

The embryonic “embrace debate” show would probably not include Bayless’ “Undisputed” co-stars Shannon Sharpe or Jenny Taft, said a source. 

Instead, it could serve as a vehicle for younger FS1 talent like 30-year-old Emmanuel Acho, 34-year-old Joy Taylor, 36-year-old Nick Wright, 38-year old Charissa Thompson and 46-year-old Marcellus Wiley to show off their debating chops — and possibly stake their claims to be Bayless’ successor. 

Last fall, Front Office Sports was the first to report that Bayless was signing a contract extension that would include a raise on his $6 million annual salary. Giving Bayless a second show would accomplish several strategic goals for Fox management, said sources.

First, it would help management “justify” Bayless’ $7 million annual salary. The notorious TV troll annually earns more than twice as much as Sharpe, his African American co-star, whose own contract expires this summer.  

Bayless makes as much if not more annually than anybody at Fox — including No. 1 NFL analyst Troy Aikman. 

Aikman has never hidden his contempt for Bayless, who covered him when he was winning three Super Bowls for the Dallas Cowboys. When Fox first signed Bayless away from ESPN in 2016, Aikman went public with his disappointment to Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch: “I believe success is achieved by acquiring and developing talented, respected, and credible individuals, none of which applies to Skip Bayless.”

Second, the addition of a solo show would theoretically keep Bayless at the same status level as Stephen A. Smith, his former protege and debate opponent at ESPN’s “First Take.”

Front Office Sports first reported in November 2019 that the two former sparring partners were seeking a reunion at either ESPN or Fox. 

In January, Smith landed his own solo afternoon show, “Stephen A’s World,” on the subscription ESPN+ streaming service. Giving Bayless his own show would enable him to keep pace with his close friend.

Third, a “Judge Skip” show would be relatively cheap and easy to produce. Bayless wouldn’t have to be on-camera for much of the filming. 

Instead, the heavy lifting would be done by the various debate opponents riding Bayless’ favorite hobby horses, such as the Cowboys and whether LeBron James has a “clutch” gene.

If done right, FS1 could film multiple episodes in a single day in front of and behind the camera already in place at its Los Angeles studio.  

On the other hand, the sight of a scowling Bayless — in a powdered English judge wig — could be one of the most unintentionally hilarious sights on sports TV. 

Bill Simmons already fumbled the sports courtroom idea on his short-lived HBO TV show “Any Given Wednesday.” That 2016 bit featured a wooden Simmons arguing Tom Brady’s “Deflategate” case against actor Michael Rapaport in front of Judge Joe Brown. 

The routine was as unfunny as the rest of “Any Given Wednesday.” Simmons’ show was cancelled after only four months on the air.

Even if the courtroom idea flops, Bayless needs to do more. 

He’s already been relegated to FS1’s second-biggest star behind Colin Cowherd, who routinely beats him in the ratings. 

The March 4 edition of Cowherd’s noontime show, “The Herd,” averaged 103,000 viewers to 87,000 for Bayless’ “Undisputed,” according to ShowBuzz Daily. 

During the NFL season, Cowherd also co-stars on the “Fox NFL Kickoff” pregame show. His eponymous “The Herd with Colin Cowherd” is simulcast on FS1 and Fox Sports Radio Network.  

Meanwhile, Smith’s “First Take” has trounced Bayless’ “Undisputed” for years, especially since moving to ESPN from ESPN2. 

Smith’s show drew 286,000 viewers on March 4 — more than tripling Bayless’ viewership in the same time slot.

On the other hand, the 25-year old “Judge Judy” show has proven to be one of the longest-running, most successful shows in syndication. It remains to be seen whether FS1 pulls the trigger on “Judge Skip” or goes with another creative idea.

Fox declined to comment for this story.

“This is about Skip trying to keep up with Stephen A.” said a source. “He still thinks of himself as the Debate King — but their competition isn’t even a competition any more.” 

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