With Cris Carter Out At Fox Sports, What’s Next For First Things First?

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  • Cris Carter is officially out at Fox Sports. But his 'First Things First' morning show on FS1 will continue, says network.
  • Not one 'Embrace Debate' show on ESPN or FS1 features a female debater. Fox could reap benefits of casting first woman to debate sports rather than serving as moderator.
Cris Carter officially out at Fox. Imagine PR/ad impact for Fox if network hired first female debate star for an Embrace Debate show, asked TV insiders.
Photo credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Cris Carter, the Pro Football Hall of Famer and co-host of the “First Things First” morning show, is officially out at Fox Sports following a disagreement with the network.

Front Office Sports reported Monday that Carter had been frustrated with being passed over for Fox’s “Thursday Night Football” pregame show.

Ex-Super Bowl champion Chris Canty has filled in for Carter for the past week on “First Things First,” which he has co-hosted with Nick Wright and Jenna Wolfe the past two years.

Fox films the “Thursday Night Football” pregame show in the courtyard downstairs from Carter’s midtown Manhattan office. Rather than casting Carter, Fox has chosen to fly in Los Angeles-based talent like Tony Gonzalez and Reggie Bush. The network has also played up its new hire Rob Gronkowski.

Carter cleaned out his office in New York City and was escorted from the building by security, said sources. 

“Cris Carter is no longer with FOX Sports,” spokesman Andrew Fegyveresi confirmed via email Thursday.  

Despite rumors FS1 might cancel “First Things First,” the show will go on, Fegyveresi said. 

“The show remains a priority for FS1 and FOX Sports overall.”

Airing weekdays from 6:30 to 9:30 a.m. ET, “First Things First” isn’t a big draw on television, typically averaging around 90,000 daily viewers. 

However, it serves as a necessary lead-in to FS1’s biggest studio show, “Undisputed,” which airs against ESPN’s powerhouse “First Take” from 9:30 a.m. to 12 noon ET. 

Before “First Things First,” FS1 aired mostly game reruns in morning hours leading up to Undisputed.

It’s possible that Fox keeps “First Things First” on the air until after football season, when studio shows make most of their ad dollars, then replaces it with a new program in February or March, said sources.

But with a spot on the show now open, multiple sports media executives put forth an idea regarding what the network might do next: putting the first female in one of the main chairs on an “embrace debate” show.

That sort of move could make sense both from a strategic and business standpoint for Fox. 

All of the embrace debate shows, including ESPN’s “First Take” with Stephen A. Smith, Max Kellerman and Molly Qerim, FS1’s “Undisputed” with Skip Bayless, Shannon Sharpe and Jenny Taft and “First Things First” with Carter, Wright and Wolfe feature the same casting dynamic: two male debaters arguing sports with a female “moderator.” 

The two male debaters are the stars of the show and make the most money. The female moderator? She’s generally relegated to the background, introducing the debate topic, refereeing the debaters when they get out of hand and taking the show in and out of commercial breaks.

A media industry source said that Fox would get free publicity for going where no debate show has gone before – not to mention possible attention from advertisers, looking for new places to spend their ad dollars. 

“If I’m Fox, I find a female. There’s no female who sits in the debate chair on any of these shows. Hey, we’re in the Me Too era. Fox has a moment here,” said one TV sports insider who declined to be named. “They’re Fox. They say they like to be different. Well, do something different.”

Canty could continue to fill the role, said the sources, but so too could a dozen former NFL or NBA stars. If Fox did make an effort to find a female debate opponent for Wright, they’d find there’s plenty of talented TV women out there, sources said.

That could start within Fox/FS1: There’s Joy Taylor, who was promoted from “Undisputed” moderator to Colin Cowherd’s news anchor on “The Herd with Colin Cowherd.”

Wolfe, Taft and Sarah Kustok have the potential, as well as Rachel Bonnetta, who has been featured on the network’s “Lock It In” betting show.

Over at rival ESPN, NFL Insider Josina Anderson, Elle Duncan, Sarah Spain, Wendi Nix, Mina Kimes, Linda Cohn, Michele Steele, and Diana Russini could be possible targets.

These ESPN TV talents have plenty of experience from mixing it up on shows such as “SportsCenter,” “NFL Live” and “Around the Horn.”

Not to mention Qerim, who’s become an increasingly integral and opinionated part of First Take.

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Fox could also reach out to pioneering female sports TV icons like Lesley Visser, Andrea Kremer or Hannah Storm. Kremer and Storm became the first female duo to call NFL games, with their alternate streaming telecast of “Thursday Night Football” for Amazon Prime Video.

Or recruit from the all-female cast of CBS Sports Network’s “We Need To Talk.” Panelists have included: Visser, Kremer, Tracy Wolfson, former NFL executive Amy Trask, Swin Cash, Laila Ali, Dana Jacobson and Lisa Leslie.

Don’t forget, former ESPN stars Jemele Hill and Michelle Beadle are both TV free agents. Both are based out of Los Angeles now. But Fox could recruit them if they moved the show back to their Southern California headquarters from New York.

“Who could really move the needle? That’s what I’m asking if I’m Fox,” said another TV insider. “Be different. Be bold.”

Ryan Glasspiegel of The Big Lead first reported Carter was suspended, pending an investigation. 

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk said Carter’s “Thursday Night Football” frustration may have boiled over Oct. 31 when Fox flew in college football analyst Bush from Los Angeles to join the show.

After his Hall of Fame career on the field, the opinionated Carter has been a mainstay of NFL TV. 

He joined HBO Sports’ “Inside the NFL” in 2002, then moved to ESPN in 2008 where he appeared on the network’s “Sunday NFL Countdown” and “Monday NFL Countdown” shows. 

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Carter got in trouble at ESPN after a videotape surfaced of him urging NFL rookies to find a “fall guy” among their crew of friends if they were stopped by the police. He publicly apologized.

FS1 tapped Carter as the main star of “First Things First” with Wright and Wolfe in September 2017.