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Skip Bayless Struggles In Role As Soft-Spoken Moderator On FS1

  • Passive Bayless barely gets a word on his new ‘Undisputed.’
  • New talkers Michael Irvin, Richard Sherman, and Keyshawn Johnson dominate.
Skip Bayless
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Who knew Skip Bayless had morphed into Jenny Taft?

After a forced hiatus of nearly two months off, Bayless’ revamped “Undisputed Live” returned to FS1 Monday morning. His exiled former co-star Shannon Sharpe must be laughing in his beer.

In one of the strangest turns I’ve seen in sports TV, FS1 downplayed Baylesss’ role on his own show.

The show’s former moderators like Taft and Jen Hale were gone. Bayless could barely get a word in on his show. Instead, the rebuilt “Undisputed” was geared around new stars Michael Irvin, Keyshawn Johnson and Richard Sherman.

Bayless, FS1’s highest-paid talent at $8 million a year, was reduced to the role of mumbling moderator. 

After a cringe-worthy introduction, he introduced debate topics, then looked on passively while his three new co-stars bellowed over each other.

Occasionally, Bayless interjected with some points of his own. But every time he was rounding into the hot take-spewing TV troll we love to hate, one of his three co-stars would interrupt.

For the most part, a neutered Bayless sat hunched in his chair, blowing air through pursed lips, nodding along with the opinions of his new high-profile guest stars. 

At one point, he was reduced to meekly holding his hand up, like a schoolboy asking his teachers for permission to talk. He pleaded “time out” and “my turn” at other moments to try to break into their conversation. They mostly ignored him.

As NBA Central tweeted, “Skip’s new partners won’t let him speak (with three laughing emojis). Barstool Sports wrote: “Welcome to the new dynamic Skip! Keyshawn Johnson, Richard Sherman, and Michael Irvin came on and said this is our show now pal.”

His three new co-stars – all former Super Bowl champions – didn’t exactly treat Bayless with the deference he was used to from Sharpe and former ESPN partner Stephen A. Smith. 

Johnson called him “Skippy.” Irvin virtually took over the show, standing up from his chair and addressing the audience like an old-school preacher. 

Irvin, who’s been suspended for months by NFL Network and ESPN for an incident with a woman at the Super Bowl, briefly apologized for dominating the conversation. Then he did it anyway.

At one point, I felt sorry for Bayless.  

Here was the enfant terrible of sports TV muzzled on his show.  Here was the supposed dominating personality taking a back seat to the show’s three rookies.

To his credit, the 71-year-old Bayless realized he’d lost control. 

He complained he didn’t have time to fully address the topics because his partners “talked too much.” Johnson immediately threw that back in Bayless’ face: “I know you just didn’t say we talk too much.”

He tried to play some of his greatest hits (LeBron James has no clutch gene; the Dallas Cowboys; Michael Jordan as deity, etc.). But he might be unable to put the toothpaste back into this tube. 

My early take is that Bayless and FS1 made two strategic mistakes with “Undisputed.” 

One, they didn’t realize what they had for six years with Sharpe, who’s now happily joining Smith’s rotating ensemble at ESPN, including Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, Marcus Spears, Ryan Clark, Mina Kimes, Kimberley A. Martin and Dan Orlovsky.

Two, Bayless didn’t realize how hard it would be to merge the moderator roles with opinionist.

There’s a reason why moderators like Taft, Hale, Molly Qerim of “First Take,” and Joy Taylor are experts at their TV jobs. 

They know how to set the rules of the debate, make the opinionists look good and keep the trains running on time.

Bayless needs to improve at initiating topics or listening patiently. He’s the classic over-reactor, pounding the table to make his points. 

He can’t play moderator because he doesn’t know how. Now, he’s worrying about the segments running over into commercial breaks.  

Maybe it’s time for a less is more approach. I thought the best segment by far was when Bayless and Sherman had a one-on-one discussion about their on-air argument at ESPN in 2013. I learned things I didn’t know about what actually happened between the duo – and how live TV works.

Hope is on the way. Bayless announced that ex-ESPNers Josina Anderson and Rachel Nichols will also be joining the show. With their reporting chops and inside knowledge, they should be a strong addition. Anderson, meanwhile, will continue her role as CBS Sports’ Senior NFL Insider.

“Speaking of Dream Team, it runs even deeper than what you see right now,” Bayless told viewers. “In the coming days here on the new ‘Undisputed,’ we will be joined by Rachel Nichols and Josina Anderson. Can’t wait for that.” 

I know one thing for a fact. No matter how many new personalities come on board, Smith is the unquestioned star and leading attraction of “First Take.” 

On Monday, “Undisputed” was no longer Bayless’ show. Skip the moderator should remember that before his supposed “Dream Team” becomes a nightmare.

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