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Original Issue

Shifting Center

ESPN rethinks its signature news show

THESPORTSCENTER you grew up on is no more. Over the past 18 months, ESPN has recalibrated the show for an era in which sports highlights and real-time news are proliferating across websites, blogs and social media. In response, SportsCenter is becoming more personality-focused and less of a homogenous brand, with different time slots representing the interests of the host or hosts.

The latest iteration of the show began Monday with Jemele Hill and Michael Smith (above) leaving His and Hers on ESPN2 to become cohosts of the 6 p.m. edition of SportsCenter. The new show (called SC6) has been designed specifically to fit Hill and Smith, whose allegiances bend toward New Orleans and Detroit, comic books, food, pop culture and movies. The change follows the September 2015 recalibration of the midnight SportsCenter, which is hosted by Scott Van Pelt, who spices his shows with gambling coverage and long-form commentary. "The people who have watched us and know His and Hers are going to get His and Hers," Smith said. "It's just going to be called The Six."

This new focus stops well short of the confrontational "embrace debate" ethos that's been spreading across sports TV. But it is an acknowledgment that great plays and the latest happenings are not enough to draw and hold an audience. Of course, there's no guarantee that the new format will work, but it was time to try something.

In 2012, ESPN averaged a total-day audience of 1.02 million; four years later, it was 817,000. Hill and Smith, who have three-year guaranteed deals, have not been given ratings expectations, but the old 6 p.m. SportsCenter averaged 500,000 to 650,000 viewers, depending on the time of year. Van Pelt's ratings are largely flat, although his show is doing well on social media, in part because it's produced to create content that is easily shared. SC6 will take the same approach while maintaining its individuality. "The litmus test for us has always been, Are we excited to discuss this?" Hill says. "If it doesn't pass that test, then it won't be on the show."

The follow-up question: Will the audience be as excited to watch?


Thursday @ 8 p.m. ET

North Carolina at Duke (ESPN) or Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (HBO)

One rivalry is legit and won't disappoint. The other is contrived and definitely did.

Saturday @ 4 p.m ET

Millrose Games (NBC) or Planet Earth: Frozen Planet (BBC America)

How many Millrose events can you name? How many planets? There's your answer.

Sunday @ 3 p.m. ET

AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am (CBS) or Finding Bigfoot (Animal Planet)

At least CBS offers the chance to see something mythical, like a good celebrity golfer.

Sunday @ 7:30 p.m. ET

Canadiens at Bruins (NBCSN) or Grammy Awards (CBS)

There probably won't be any bone-crushing hits by the musicians. Sorry, Bieber.