Jan 8, 2021 - Sports

ESPN star Stephen A. Smith's next act

Stephen A Smith

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Jennifer Graylock/Getty Images

Stephen A. Smith is the face of ESPN. Can he be the face of ESPN+, too?

Driving the news: Smith will debut a new weeknight series on ESPN+ starting Monday. Unlike the debate shows he's known for, this will have more of a late-night feel, with A-list guests and a variety of original segments.

The big picture: As cable TV dies a slow death, ESPN is preparing to flip the switch to streaming. Right now, most ESPN+ content is live sports or docuseries, but a show like Smith's could help make the platform more of a daily destination for its 11.5 million subscribers.

Show details:

  • Name: "Stephen A's World"
  • Times: New 30-minute episodes will be available every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday night and available anytime on demand.
  • Behind-the-scenes: Smith will be the show's executive producer, and his production company, Mr. SAS Productions, will co-produce alongside ESPN.

🎙 Interview: I spoke with Smith about his exciting new chapter.

Format: Stephen A. has become a master at the performative parts of opinion TV, delivering daily hot takes — and viral clips — on "First Take" and other ESPN programs. This new show is a step in a different direction.

  • "I've always had an aspiration to do something with a late-night feel; something that brings levity to the situation," says Smith. "This show will allow me to be more lighthearted and show other facets of my personality."
  • "It's going to be the world according to Stephen A., but also the world Stephen A. lives in," which isn't necessarily all sports, all the time.
  • "You could see Snoop Dogg one day, Sean Hannity the next," he added. "You just never know because I'm friendly with so many people from all different elements of our society."

Tone: While the topics he covers might be similar to what he debates on "First Take," Smith says he'll approach them from a different perspective — and with a different tone.

  • "I want our guests to feel like they're coming here to be celebrated and have a good time; not to be challenged by me. I want to be more personable and fun loving and really invite the audience into my life."
  • "People see me on TV, they see what positions I take, they see what my belief system is. Now, I want to encourage them to call or FaceTime in. Challenge me, applaud me, hate on me, whatever the case may be: bring it all."

Stakes: "Stephen A's World" is essentially replacing Smith's radio show; a move he negotiated into his new contract because of how bullish he is on streaming.

  • "Direct-to-consumer is the future. It's foolish to ignore that. I applaud Disney and ESPN for moving in this direction, and I'm proud to be a part of it."
  • "Building the ESPN+ brand is a priority, and they've put the onus on my shoulders. 'The Boardroom' did exceptional work, but that wasn't daily. Neither was 'Detail' with Peyton Manning or Kobe Bryant, God rest his soul."
  • "We have the UFC. We have Top Rank Boxing. But really, ESPN+ needs a signature show that folks know they can find when they [open the app]. I've accepted the challenge and now I have to go out there and make it happen."
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