Jemele Hill Co-Host Michael Smith Exits 'SportsCenter'

No formal replacement has been named for the 6 p.m. iteration of the ESPN franchise.

Michael Smith will follow Jemele Hill out the door at ESPN’s 6 p.m. SportsCenter, ESPN confirmed on Friday. He'll anchor his final program tonight (March 9). Hill exited the show in February after a somewhat tumultuous tenure marked by incendiary tweets about Donald Trump and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

Smith, however, has not courted the same level of controversy as Hill. And he’s anchored the show, dubbed SC6, on his own since Hill’s exit. An ESPN announcement confirming Smith's exit did not offer any clarity on permanent anchors going forward, but Matt Barrie, Michael Eaves, Linda Cohn and John Buccigross are among those scheduled to rotate in. 

In a statement, Norby Williamson, ESPN’s executive vp and executive editor of studio production said: “Michael is a talented commentator and we greatly appreciate and value his contributions and creativity. We are in the process of discussing with him potential next ESPN assignments."

Si.com's Richard Deitsch first reported Smith's impending departure.

Hill, who is now writing for the ESPN vertical The Undefeated, has said that it was her decision to leave SportsCenter. But Smith’s exit, say those close to the show, was not voluntary. And his deal stipulates the he remain as the 6 p.m. anchor on ESPN for three years. He is a little more than a year into that deal, which pays him $10 million over four years.

Hill and Smith’s SportsCenter — which bowed in February 2017, during the regime of former president John Skipper — was conceived as something of a departure for the enduring ESPN franchise. More an extension of Smith and Hill's ESPN2 program His & Hers than a carbon copy of the scores and highlights driven SportsCenterSC6 featured a more conversational style and liberal doses of pop culture. On the set, the so-called North Wall behind the hosts featured photographs of iconic African Americans from Magic Johnson to the Obamas.

But ESPN has increasingly found itself in the crosshairs of the deep political divide roiling the country. Accusations from some on the right that the network’s hosts have taken a reflexively liberal approach to several controversies that have percolated in the sports world, have unsettled management at a time when ESPN, like many legacy media brands, is facing myriad challenges wrought by the digital disruption. The network has seen its subscriber base shrink to 87 million. as its rights fees continue to skyrocket. It is in the process of unloading Nate Silver's politics-heavy vertical FiveThirtyEight. And sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that several current key ESPN executives have been unhappy with the show's performance. According to multiple high-level ESPN sources, Williamson quipped in front of a room full of people when Hill departed: “One down, one to go.”

A source with knowledge of the situation stressed that the decision to recast the show was not personal but rather based on the performance of the show and the network's overall pivot away from commentary and back toward news, highlights and reporting.  

Smith, however, has been somewhat open about his frustrations. “There was a time we weren’t even talking to each other (on the program) anymore,” Smith told James Andrew Miller during a recent edition of Miller's Origins podcast. “Like no more Michael and Jemele, not less, not here and there. No more Michael and Jemele talking. No more of their commentary. It’s just strictly live shots and analysts. That’s what pissed me off so much. I’m like, so wait a second, you all acknowledge that one of the strengths that we have going for us as a show is Michael and Jemele’s chemistry, but Michael and Jemele don’t fucking talk to each other? How does that make sense?”

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