Yes, I’ve Turned Down TV Show(s)

Last month the New York Daily News ran a story saying I’d turned down my own TV show on FS1. I wasn’t the source for this story, but the writer, Bob Raissman, a man I’d never talked to before, called me while I was touring the beaches of Normandy with my family. I declined all comment to him, but a few days later he published his story. I didn’t retweet it or comment on it, but since that story went public I have been regularly peppered with questions about whether or not it was true.

On Thursday I addressed it on my Periscope and Facebook Live show as part of a discussion about media authenticity and today, with those comments being picked up as a story online, I’ve decided to go ahead and put it all out there because for better or worse I try to be as honest as I possibly can with my audience every day on my radio show, my website, and my Periscope and Facebook Live Show.

So here goes with my TV story.

Several years ago, just before Jamie Horowitz arrived at FS1, we did two different pilots for a weekly Outkick the Coverage TV show. The first one was a traveling sports show, the second one was entirely in studio. I never talked or wrote about these shows, but both were filmed in November of 2014 and there were dozens of people involved in making them at Fox. It wasn’t a huge secret, but I don’t think the fact that we were doing these shows went public.

Before we could sign the contract on this show Jamie Horowitz arrived to take over all FS1 programming. Horowitz watched the pilots when he was hired and liked them but said he needed daily shows, not weekly shows. Was I interested in a daily TV show?

The answer was yes.

So we had multiple meetings in the spring of 2015 and I appeared in a dozen or more internal pilots for shows featuring a variety of FS1 personalities. I liked Jamie and the idea was to find a vehicle that made sense.

In the spring of 2015 Horowitz offered up the morning TV slot on FS1 to me. The proposed three hour morning show on Fox would feature me and a former athlete, air nationwide on Fox Sports Radio, and also be simulcast on FS1. Horowitz agreed the show could air from Nashville — I haven’t wanted to move my family from Nashville because we have a great life here. So it seemed like a perfect fit.

The only catch was I couldn’t do the show alone, we needed to have a former athlete on with me. (He also wanted a female host to sit between us, and Melanie Collins, who is fabulous, lives in Nashville too. So we had several meetings and conversations about that angle. I have a great relationship with Eddie George, who is an athlete who has tons of opinions outside of athletics, and I thought based on having him on my old 3HL show over the year that the two of us could have a really good show. I loved the idea of him being a Big Ten guy and me being an SEC guy and thought we could appeal to the middle part of the country as opposed to being East Coast obsessed like ESPN is. So I reached out to Eddie and he liked the idea too. Before long we were in LA appearing together on America’s Pregame. (There’s probably footage of this somewhere, but I have no idea where it is),

After that broadcast Horowitz and his crew didn’t believe that Eddie and I would be contentious enough for a TV show — that is, we didn’t embrace debate enough — so he tabled that idea and said we needed to find another athlete to co-host. For anyone who has ever done daily radio, chemistry with your co-host is important, and I wasn’t willing to agree to appear with a guy I didn’t know well.

At that point, I told them thanks, but no thanks on the TV and radio show simulcast and I decided to start doing my daily Periscope and Facebook Live shows instead. Now you can say that decision was crazy –who passes up TV and radio for an unproven medium like Periscope and Facebook Live — but Pete Vlastelica, my then boss at Fox Sports Digital, was extremely enthusiastic about the idea and along with a crew in digital, we designed the first ever daily sports show airing on multiple mediums. (Guys like Matt Schnider and Pat Muldowney were also insanely helpful with that show’s launch).

For most of the first year we didn’t run a single ad, by the present day we are nearly sold out daily through the end of the year.

It’s fair to say our daily Periscope and Facebook Live Show has been a tremendous success.

Fox Sports Radio was disappointed I turned down the offer because they wanted me solo or with a co-host so a year  later Fox Sports Radio came back to me and asked if I’d be interested in their morning radio spot. They said they loved what I was doing on the website, Periscope, and Facebook Live and they wanted me to do the exact same kind of show in their morning slot. We hammered out a deal pretty quickly and that show debuted in September and has rapidly dominated in its time slot. I absolutely love my bosses at Fox Sports Radio, Don Martin and Scott Shapiro and love what we’ve been able to create on the show.

With surging ratings and rapid affiliate additions and downloads unlike anything FSR had seen in the timeslot, the Fox Sports TV crew took note. And this past February at the Super Bowl Jamie Horowitz and I went to lunch and he offered me my own TV show on FS1. But the offer came with stipulations — I needed to give up talking or Tweeting about politics and pop culture. From Donald Trump to Game of Thrones, give it all up. All Horowitz wanted me to do was talk about sports. He offered up Skip Bayless as the perfect example of who my TV role model should be. He said he’d taken Skip from making $150k a year to six million a year and he could do the same for me because I was every bit as talented as Skip and much younger.

I asked him why I couldn’t talk about politics and sports when I saw other people on FS1 and ESPN regularly talking about politics and sports. He told me that was different because they were talking about politics from a liberal perspective and that was okay, but advertisers didn’t like when you talked about sports and politics from a conservative perspective. As a Southern white conservative, I didn’t have the same freedom to mix sports and politics as a liberal would.

(Brief interlude here, I’m not opposed to talking about politics in sports. I’m opposed to talking about politics and sports and only doing it from one perspective, a liberal one. If someone wants to argue Colin Kaepernick is a hero, that’s fine, but someone else should also be able to argue he’s a fraud. Right now that doesn’t happen in most sports media. We’re confronted with an artificial debate question — how heroic is Colin Kaepernick? — that artificially stifles the marketplace of ideas, creating the exact opposite of a robust debate. By the way, the fact that I, a two-time Obama voter who has never voted Republican, worked for the Al Gore presidential campaign and is pro-choice and anti the death penalty, am considered “too conservative” is perfect evidence of how far left wing sports media has gone).

When Horowitz told me this I specifically asked him, what he’d have me tell my audience which loved the fact that I talked sports, politics, and pop culture. I’d tell them, he said, thank you for getting me here, but I don’t need you any more.

Now it’s important to note that I respect Jamie’s TV ability and talents. Indeed, it wouldn’t shock me if somewhere down the road we end up working together. In fact, the two of us are very similar; we both have tremendous faith in our instincts and the courage of our convictions. I don’t blame Jamie for trusting his instincts instead of mine. After all, he knew Skip Bayless-style TV worked, he’d turned Skip into a superstar and made tens of millions of dollars for ESPN. It makes sense that he’d want a younger Skip for the next generation.

But for better or worse I trust my instincts too. You don’t go from an online readership of zero in 2004 to a thriving multimedia business in 2017 by doing what other people tell you. If I’d listened to everyone else, I never would have left a secure job practicing law to write a book about SEC football. And when you have two people who both trust their instincts — and those instincts tell them different things — it can be hard to get a deal worked out.

I talked over the offer with my wife, my agent, with lots of talented people at Fox Sports who I respect immensely, with sports media people outside the company, and ultimately decided to turn down the TV offer. I never said a word publicly about either of these TV offers until last week, over a month after the New York Daily News story came out — followed by several other stories online which have piggybacked off their scoop. I suspect these stories would have never come out if Jamie Horowitz hadn’t gotten fired — this story coming out was like when a head coach gets fired and everyone suddenly tells stories about him — but these stories were well known inside Fox and eventually some people decided to talk to the media.

While I’ve  kept quiet about some of these stories for years, I’m putting all of this out there now instead of letting other people tell my story who weren’t there and don’t know exactly what happened.

I believe I have the best job in America right now. And maybe a TV opportunity will present itself again in the future. But I’m not just going to chase TV if it means I have to give up my ability to say what I think every day. For better or worse I sit down in front of the microphone every day on the radio and every day on this website and say or write exactly what I think. I could have sold out and stopped doing this, but my creative freedom and honesty matters more to me.

My goal every day is to be smart, original, funny and authentic about a variety of topics, sports and otherwise. I don’t always accomplish that, but it’s my goal. So, yes, I turned down a multi-million dollar TV offer to keep doing exactly what I’m doing now.

If that’s dumb, so be it, I’ve made other dumb decisions — remember my ill-fated sojourn in the pants business — but I’ve gotten here by trusting my own instincts. When or if I ever get the offer to be smart, original, funny and authentic on TV, I’ll do it.

Until then, idiot or not, I’m happy exactly where I am.

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