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Sports Authority

Coolican: Ranking the best sports talk show hosts

| Monday, September 28, 2020

It’s almost a rite of passage for Observer sportswriters to write a Sports Authority ranking something or other, so I’ve decided to give it a shot. I often spend my mornings watching sports talk shows, so I’ve compiled a definitive ranking of sports television talk show hosts. As an added bonus, writing this column gave me a great excuse to procrastinate my actual work and watch clips of these shows. For the purposes of this exercise, I haven’t included radio hosts because there are simply far too many to rank.

8. Skip Bayless, “Skip and Shannon: Undisputed”

To no one’s surprise, Skip Bayless finds himself at the bottom of this list. His opinions routinely make me question whether he has ever watched the sport he is discussing (*ahem* LeBron James.) He’s had a lot of bad takes (including when he tweeted in 2016 that field goal kicks should be eliminated), but his comments on Dak Prescott earlier this month were horrendous. He said that he thought Prescott’s public admission of depression was a sign of weakness, because he is an NFL quarterback. As if Skip’s routinely ridiculous comments weren’t enough, he’s also an insufferable Cowboys fan. I actually enjoy “Undisputed,” but that doesn’t save Skip from the bottom of these rankings.

7. Colin Cowherd, “The Herd”

“The Herd” is much better suited for radio than for TV. For one, the show almost entirely revolves around Cowherd himself, with little back and forth between co-hosts and guests. The banter that makes shows like “First Take,” “Undisputed” and “Pardon the Interruption” so great is missing. Cowherd routinely makes “hot takes,” which are often entertaining simply because of how ridiculous they are. Last week, he somehow ranked both Carson Wentz and Derek Carr ahead of Drew Brees, which is one of the worst takes I’ve heard in a long time. He’s clearly a knowledgeable commentator, but his show leaves a lot to be desired in terms of a dynamic quality and gets boring quickly—and it’s three hours long.

6. Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard, Lee Corso, Rece Davis and others, “College GameDay”

“College GameDay” is a great way to start your day on a fall Saturday. It’s the best place to get all the college football information for the week. Seeing the hilarious signs fans make is always a treat. However, people don’t tune in to “College GameDay” for the hosts. Despite working together for more than five years now, the hosts don’t have the same chemistry that many of the others on this list do. They travel to a new game every week, and often cater to the local audience. If you aren’t a fan of either team, you’re out of luck. The main highlight, Corso’s headgear pick, where he dons a mask, helmet or other object of the team he picks to win, is quite frankly, an old shtick. Now, I’m not saying I dislike “GameDay,” and the show’s main draw, unlike others on this list, is not the hosts. Just the same, the hosts don’t make this show.

5. Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, “Pardon the Interruption”

If you’re looking for a great way to catch up on the previous day’s sports news without too much perseverating, check out “Pardon the Interruption.” This is one of my favorite shows because it analyzes the entire spectrum of sports news in just 30 minutes. Wilbon and Kornheiser are the perfect hosts for the program. They don’t discuss topics to death like most of the other hosts on this list. It’s short and to the point, but still provides insightful analysis, and it’s clear the hosts have a great chemistry. The show has been airing for nearly 20 years, an indication of how well-liked it is.

4. Shannon Sharpe, “Skip and Shannon: Undisputed”

“Undisputed” is a great show because of the energy it has, and Shannon Sharpe is a big reason why. As a former NFL tight end, he brings the knowledge of a former player, and he often performs stunts on air, such as Friday when he walked in to the studio with a goat mask on, to tease Skip about LeBron James. He knows how to put Skip in his place, which is always a sight to behold, and their styles contrast perfectly. Even without Skip, however, Sharpe is a fantastic host in his own right. He’s funny, knowledgeable, opinionated and very entertaining.

3. Max Kellerman, “First Take”

Max Kellerman may not be as loud and outgoing as his co-host, Stephen A. Smith, but he demonstrates his intelligence in a way few others do. A Columbia University grad, Kellerman always backs up his assertions with facts, and perfectly matches Smith’s loud, semi-obnoxious style with his own measured demeanor. He’s had his share of hot takes, especially in the NBA realm, but overall, his opinions are usually very good. He’s also not afraid to tackle social justice issues, as shown in last week’s episode when he discussed the protests going on around the country, and he should be applauded for that.

2. Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, Kenny “The Jet” Smith and Ernie Johnson, “Inside the NBA”

“Inside the NBA” might be the best sports show on television. It brilliantly combines insightful analysis and slapstick comedy, but it can also handle serious issues. The hosts routinely have hilarious antics, such as when O’Neal and Barkley were wrestling on the floor of the studio, but it can also promote racial justice when Smith walked off the set in solidarity with athletes protesting. The hosts have a brilliant dynamic, such as the constant roasting of Barkley, and also provide the audience with everything they need to know about that night’s NBA games. Simply put, a must-watch.

1. Stephen A. Smith, “First Take”

Stephen A. Smith is everything a talk-show host should be. Funny, loud, self-assured of his opinions and very insightful. His analysis is always spot on, and he brings a sense of humour to his work, too. He frequently makes bold takes, but more often than not, they turn out to be right. He knows when to sit back and let his co-hosts talk, and when it is time to simply yell over them. He also engages with guests in a way few others do, producing some iconic “First Take” segments, from Lavar Ball to Mark Cuban and many people in between. Smith does have a bit of an inflammatory style, and people may not like him, but it’s impossible to turn away. 

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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