The morning show wars between Fox Sports, ESPN and the NFL Network are about to heat up again in early 2020.
With Cris Carter suddenly leaving “First Things First,” Fox’s FS1 is weighing a significant strategy change to better position its weekday morning show against ESPN’s “Get Up!” and NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football.”
There are multiple scenarios under consideration for the 27-month old show that airs from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., said sources. The most probable is that FS1 transforms “First Things First” into more of a fun, fast-moving morning show from its present opinion and debate format.
FS1 may also add a fourth person to its existing three-person cast that includes Nick Wright and Jenna Wolfe. Former New York Giants lineman Chris Canty has mostly filled in since Carter’s exit, but he’s viewed as a temporary replacement.
Fox’s goal is to make “First Things First” a more powerful lead-in to the “Undisputed” debate show starring Skip Bayless, Shannon Sharpe, and Jenny Taft that airs from 9:30 to 12 noon ET.
“They want to make ‘First Things First’ more like Mike Greenberg’s ‘Get Up!’ or NFL Network’s ‘Good Morning Football,” said one source.
FS1’s programming brain trust of Charlie Dixon, executive vice president of content, and Whit Albohm, executive producer, regard the 35-year old Wright as a potential Bayless or Colin Cowherd. They want somebody across the desk who can lighten up the more serious Wright, and one strong possibility that has emerged is Damien Woody of ESPN, said sources.
The former Super Bowl champion has been one of ESPN’s most entertaining and incisive analysts since joining the network in 2011.
Woody’s entering a contract year at ESPN, said sources. With his sense of humor, the former NFL lineman could make a nice fit with Wright and Wolfe at the New York-based show.
But the Woody deal isn’t finalized yet, said another source. There are still other talents under consideration for Carter’s role, said sources.
Fox declined to comment. Woody could not be reached.
The 42-year old Woody would fit several of the search criteria laid down by Dixon, said sources.
He has morning show experience. Woody has been a key contributor to Greenberg’s “Get Up!” since its launch on April 2, 2018.
After a rocky start, “Get Up!” has become one of ESPN’s biggest shows. Between linear television and streaming, the show has grown its average audience to 352,000 viewers, up 10% from last year.
“Sports has to be fun that early in the morning. ‘Get Up’ has done a great job of changing course – and embracing that,” said another source. “They’re not talking about national security.”
Meanwhile, “Good Morning Football” has been critically acclaimed for the fun-loving chemistry between its four-person cast of Kay Adams, Nate Burleson, Peter Schrager, and Kyle Brandt.
Similar to Carter, FS1 is looking for a former NFL player who can provide analysis on America’s most popular sport. The 12-year NFL veteran was part of the Patriots’ Super Bowl-winning teams in 2001 and 2003. Woody is friends with Fox talents like Cowherd, who previously worked at ESPN.
In a crowded market that also includes traditional network morning shows like “Good Morning America,” “Today,” and “CBS This Morning,” Fox needs to find a “unique thinker” who can “create sparks” with Wright, said sports media expert Jason Barrett.
“A program like FTF, which has been on the air for just two years, has to create more memorable moments to stand out,” said the president of Barrett Sports Media. “I’m talking about thumb-stopping content on TV and social media that spreads like wildfire and produces media industry chatter, fan reaction, and greater curiosity to tune in.”
READ MORE: Shannon Sharpe Scores New Deal With Fox
Sportscaster Seth Everett wonders if opinion and debate-driven studio shows are running out of steam.
“To me, I’d watch replays of live events and another program from the various FOX RSN’s,” said Everett. “If I’m living in Tampa, I have a better chance of sitting down to see Yankees Magazine than a Cris Carter replacement telling me what he thinks LeBron James is thinking.”
FS1 wants a big-name hire in Carter’s chair before its broadcast of Super Bowl 54 on February 2 from Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, said sources.
Fox typically brings its FS1 studios on the road during Super Bowl week and has them broadcast live from the event.
There are still questions swirling about Carter’s sudden exit in early November. Neither Carter nor FS1 have spoken publicly about the reasons behind his departure.
FS1 has also canceled Kristine Leahy’s “Fair Game” interview show, which airs weekdays from 5:30 to 6:00 p.m. Her last show is scheduled to air December 27.
Despite the cast changes, FS1’s daily studio shows are off to their best year ever, with viewership up 21% over last year and 40% over 2017. During Thanksgiving week, “Undisputed” and Cowherd’s “The Herd” posted record weeks, averaging 249,000 and 200,000 viewers respectively.