Max Kellerman Moving on From First Take; Appears He & Stephen A. Will Get Their Own Shows on ESPN

There were rumors that it was happening over the past week, now it is official:

ESPN has announced that Max Kellerman is leaving First Take after five years.

According to a press release from ESPN, “Kellerman will host a new ESPN television series (more details to follow), after serving on ESPN’s popular First Take program alongside Stephen A. Smith and Molly Qerim Rose since July 2016. More information on the new Kellerman show and on First Take’s updated format will be announced soon. Kellerman will also continue to host his weekly boxing show, Max on Boxing on ESPN2.”  

Kellerman will also join Keyshawn Johnson and Jay Williams for ESPN Radio’s Keyshawn, JWill & Max. Zubin Mehenti, co-host of the show formerly known as Keyshawn, JWill & Zubin, has been replaced after missing considerable time over the past year due to health complications. 

I’ve been wondering where Zubin has been for the past few months. Hopefully he recovers and gets back to full health, wishing all the best to him and his family. It sucks that he basically lost his job due to health problems; I hope ESPN will give him a role when he gets back.

Max should be good on that show, though.

I’m more interested in the “new ESPN television series” that Max will now be hosting.

Reports of Kellerman’s departure from First Take surfaced last week, with the popular sports debate show said to be taking on a format in which a source told Front Office Sports was being dubbed “Stephen A. vs the World,” featuring a rotating cast of guests. Speculation regarding who will be asked to fill in opposite Smith has everyone, us included, drawing up our wish list. 

At first when I heard Max was leaving First Take, I thought it was a demotion for him. They were talking about him moving to a radio show, so how could you interpret that any other way? Moving from a prime morning TV slot to the radio–that’s clearly a demotion.

But apparently Max will be getting a TV show of his own. So that’s definitely not a demotion. In fact I think it’s actually a promotion now, and I’ll explain why in a bit.

This is an interesting development at ESPN. First Take was definitely their top show, and now they’re breaking it up. It feels like the only reason they’d do that is because Stephen A. and Max are so clearly their top on-screen talents, and ESPN is spread pretty thin right now as it is.

Stephen A. can clearly carry a show by himself. The new “First Take,” which they’re saying is going to be something like “Stephen A. vs. the World,” will do just fine. They’ll get a rotating cast of guests to come in and debate him. I’m sure you’ll see a lot of Kendrick Perkins during basketball season and Dan Orlovsky during football season. ESPN will probably just bring in their most bombastic debaters, sit them across from Stephen A., then watch the fireworks fly.

But can Max Kellerman carry his own TV show? That I’m not sure about. He was good with Stephen A., but as good as First Take was with Max, Max is no Skip Bayless. Skip and Stephen A. were the best version of First Take. Now, Skip and Shannon are the best morning debate show on sports television.

As much as people hate Skip Bayless, the guy is engaging. He knows how to put on a show. There’s a reason Fox Sports pays him $8 million a year.

To be honest, I think–and I don’t know the ratings numbers because they’re hard to find–that the Fox Sports shows are killing the ESPN shows. You look at the whole lineup and Fox is just better across the board. First Things First is a great show with Nick Wright and Kevin Wildes and Jenna Wolfe. Brandon Marshall is not my favorite, but the other three on that show are really good. I don’t mind Mike Greenberg on Get Up, but he’s not as good as First Things First.

Then you have Undisputed, and I just think Skip and Shannon are better than Stephen A. and Max. It’s close, but Skip and Shannon just have better chemistry. Plus, Jenny Taft is a million times better than Molly as the moderator. Molly isn’t as bad lately, but I think it’s because ESPN was starting to realize how much the audience didn’t like her.

Colin Cowherd comes next, and ESPN doesn’t have anyone close to as good as him. I personally think Colin Cowherd is the best sports media figure in the game. I know a lot of people hate him, and he does say some dumb stuff from time to time, but overall Colin is really good.

I think ESPN is giving Max his own show to try to better compete with Fox Sports’ lineup. It’s a good move because Stephen A. will still draw ratings with or without Max, and Max’s show will probably do pretty well itself. You could say ESPN is spreading their talent too thin, but Stephen A. can carry a show by himself. So it really doesn’t make a ton of sense for ESPN to have their two best TV talents on the same show in the same time slot.

And this is where we get into the speculation about Max’s new show: when will it be and what will it be replacing? I don’t think it’ll be replacing Get Up, because Keyshawn, J-Will & Max will from 6am-10am EST on the radio and ESPN2. Get Up runs from 8am-10am, and then First Take is from 10am-noon on the main ESPN network.

I’m assuming they’ll keep Stephen A. in that 10am-noon slot, probably under a new name like, “First Take with Stephen A. Smith” or something like that.

The logical choice, in my view, would be to put Max on from noon-3pm, or noon-2pm, to compete with Colin Cowherd, who is on from noon-3pm. Currently, ESPN just runs back-to-back SportsCenters from noon-2pm, then has Jalen & Jacoby from 2-2:30pm.

So they technically do have an opening for Max to have a show from noon-2pm. I think ESPN will scrap the noon-2pm SportsCenters and put Max Kellerman on to try to compete with Colin Cowherd.

As far as radio goes, this is their new updated schedule:

So Max will be on in the primetime morning drive slot from 6-10am. Remember, that’s the Big Spot at ESPN–that used to be the Mike & Mike in the Morning slot from 2000-2017.

Kellerman’s own radio show used to run from 2-4pm, now that spot is occupied by both Bart & Hahn, and Canty & Golic Jr.

So will Kellerman be able to compete with Colin Cowherd? I doubt it, but hey, who knows.

I’m also just completely speculating about Max’s new show. It might not even be the noon-2pm slot. We’ll have to wait and see.

But in the grand scheme of things, it’s hard to look at this big shake-up of ESPN’s programming schedule as a good thing. When things are going good, you don’t change it up.

Austin Frank

Sports blogger

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