TV debating is a lot harder than it looks, the co-host of “Skip and Shannon: Undisputed” said on the latest episode of Recode Media.
When Skip Bayless was a newspaper columnist, his colleagues laughed at the idea of sports journalism on TV, the “talking heads in funny suits.”
Now with more than a decade of TV sports under his belt — including 12 years at ESPN and a new show on Fox Sports 1, “Skip and Shannon: Undisputed” — Bayless knows it’s no laughing matter. He explained his hyper-prepared process for arguing with personalities like Stephen A. Smith and Shannon Sharpe on the latest Recode Meda with Peter Kafka.
“I’m competing with Shannon,” he said of “Undisputed,” a two-and-a-half-hour show that airs every weekday at 9:30 am ET. “I work out hard because you need to be in really good shape to do this for two and a half hours. That’s a big component in this, to stay fresh and to endure. Right now, I just finished a show and, not to gross you out, get too graphic, but I got a t-shirt on underneath and it’s soaking wet because I am so focused, I’m fighting so hard.”
“I think I’m a good-hearted psycho,” he added. “I live for this, I’m obsessed with this.”
When he and Sharpe agree on something, he explained, they have to think on their feet and find something that is debate-worthy.
“If we do agree, and I do go first, I go boom-boom-BOOM to open the show,” Bayless said. “One of those booms, if he will listen carefully and trust himself, might cause him to say, ‘I agree with you in the big picture, but did you just say that x is y?’ ‘Yeah, I said x is y! What’s it to you?’ Maybe we take a hard left turn out of a basic agreement into a disagreement.”
Growing up in Oklahoma City, Bayless had no family connection that would naturally point him toward sports media. On the other hand, his younger brother Rick Bayless, now a TV-famous chef, got his start at their father’s barbecue restaurant. He only discovered an interest in writing at the urging of a high school English teacher, who was impressed by a book report Bayless wrote on the first day of class.
“I’d never tried to write in my life, except my name,” he said. “And I, of course, chose a sports biography by an old New York Giants quarterback named Y. A. Tittle, and I didn’t write a book report — I wrote a critique of it. I don’t know what prompted it, it just spilled out.”
Luckily for Bayless, that same English teacher also ran the school newspaper.
“She said, ‘You’re coming into journalism.’ I said, ‘No, I’m not, I don’t have any interest.’ She said, ‘You’re going to write my sports column.’ I said, ‘I don’t write.’ She said, ‘Yes, you do. You have the gift. You can do this.’ That launched me on this path.”
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