ESPN Plots Morning-Show Cross-Over For ‘Get Up,’ ‘First Take’

On Monday, ESPN hosts Mike Greenberg and Stephen A. Smith might be called for going offsides.

With coverage expected to center on this Sunday’s NFC match-up between the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles, hosts and analysts from two of ESPN’s popular morning programs, “Get Up” and “First Take” will cross lines, so to speak, and appear across both shows’ time slots. Smith, Greenberg, Michael Irvin, Molly Qerim, Rex Ryan, Dan Orlovsky and more will make appearances across the two shows’ four hours and analyze weekend NFL play as well as discuss a game between the Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Chargers schedule for ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.”

“The dynamic will be memorable, if not unpredictable,” says David Roberts, ESPN’s head of NBA and studio production, who oversees the morning programs, in an interview.

ESPN at present doesn’t appear to have plans to make the cross-over event a regular thing, but TV networks that specialize in live, newsy programming may have reason to give such an idea a second thought. A new generation of video viewers raised on streaming often binges through one program after another, and isn’t always greeted with a change of show every 30 or 60 minutes. At least one cable-news network has considered similar moves that could have anchors who hold forth in one hour start on screen earlier to call attention to their later appearances.

“Programmers trying to encourage people to watch live or stream for a longer period of time need to offer boundless, all day ‘babysitting,’” says Tim Hanlon of Vertere Group, a consultancy that works with media companies and advertisers. “It’s a lot easier to make something more binge-able than it is to jarringly go from one show at the top of the hour to another show.”

It’s a technique that programmers specializing in live as-it-happens content — news and sports, essentially — need to master. As more TV viewers watch scripted fare at moments of their own choosing  linear TV networks are placing new emphasis on the content genres that can win live audiences.

ESPN’s morning talent swap was hatched by “Get Up” host Mike Greenberg, Roberts says, and was quickly adopted by Smith. Both “Get Up” and “First Take” are broadcast from studios in a New York facility, making it easy for the “First Take” team to visit the “Get Up” set and vice-versa.

Smith and Greenberg “have an easy chemistry, aided by the fact that they work together on ‘NBA Countdown,’” says Roberts. “It’s a perfect opportunity to showcase two extremely high-profile individuals.”

ESPN will try the stunt as the two shows are enjoying momentum during the new NFL season. Viewers flocked in noticeable fashion to both programs in the first week of the NFL season for “reaction” shows to the weekend’s games. On September 12, “Get Up” viewership rose 13% compared with its year-earlier broadcast, while “First Take” rose 25%, according to Nielsen data.

The cross-over program will be “loud and lively,” Roberts predicted.

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