Michelle Beadle’s ESPN career is in peril mostly because of things no one sees on the air, according to sources. Beadle makes $5 million per year, but refuses to take care of the responsibilities outside of hosting the network’s premiere NBA show, “Countdown.”
Her failure to promote the program on outside venues combined with her virtual no-show to the much-hyped morning show “Get Up!” has branded her a bad teammate and put her position in question.
In late April, The Post reported that there were factions in Bristol not enamored with Beadle, and that her role hosting what is the lead-in to the NBA Finals and ABC/ESPN’s most prestigious games during the season was in jeopardy.
A report last week by SportsbyBrooks.com said Beadle is gone from “Countdown,” along with analysts Paul Pierce and Chauncey Billups. ESPN sent out a press release saying nothing has been decided.
Right now, the website looks as if it will be 2-for-3 with a chance to hit on all three. In the upcoming “Countdown” shakeup, Pierce and Billups are unlikely to return to the show. Beadle still may survive, though it is far from certain.
Pierce and Billups’ contracts are up, according to sources, and they are expected to be offered new deals, just not as regulars on “Countdown.” Billups will be asked to shift to games, according to sources, which he prefers and which he showed promise on. The network will try to carve out a role for Pierce, including a part on its acclaimed daily afternoon program, “The Jump.”
On “Countdown,” ESPN will likely lose the host and three-player setup, with non-players expected to be part of the equation, according to sources. They will still add ex-players, with Richard Jefferson and Jay Williams early strong candidates. Jalen Rose could survive the “Countdown” purge and emerge with the new team.
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Before final decisions are held, ESPN has to figure out how to make “Countdown” special, an issue since the NBA returned to ESPN in 2002.
ESPN’s top pregame show has always been dwarfed by the Charles Barkley-led “Inside The NBA.” The TNT show is an all-timer, while ABC/ESPN’s “Countdown” has gone through more failed rebuilding plans than the Knicks. Interestingly, the two shows have similar viewership numbers, but Barkley & company dominate on buzz.
In its offseason meetings, ESPN will try to figure out how to change the show with Beadle now the biggest topic. With her reputation as a teammate down and the show considered sluggish, her greatest asset may be her huge salary.
As ESPN tries to make the best use of its money as it slowly transforms its business in a more digital world, does eating her salary or even shifting her to a lesser role make sense?
With a better cast and format, ESPN may decide that Beadle could be a facilitator. In fairness, if she were passing to Barkley, she would probably be doing just fine. For what it is worth, she tweeted this weekend as if she will definitely be back on “Countdown.”
She may end up being right, but it will be a new show.
If Beadle remains as the host or if she is replaced by the top candidates, Rachel Nichols or Maria Taylor, she will be joined by more than just players so an insider, like Adrian Wojnarowski, could be added.
If that happens, to be really effective, Wojnarowski is going to have to show his teeth again, like he once did as a top columnist. If he is just dispensing tweets on TV, then it is hard to see how that really would break through.
While Stephen A. Smith would be an obvious choice for ESPN, the program is located in Los Angeles and ESPN knows that Smith’s bread and butter, “First Take,” is at its best when he, Max Kellerman and host Molly Qerim work together in New York. Smith shouldn’t be ruled out, but appears unlikely at this point.
The outspoken Stan Van Gundy is not expected to be a full-time “Countdown” candidate, sources said.
While ESPN has tried to go the star power route in the past to match Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal, it may eschew that this time. Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade are huge names, but sources indicate that neither seems interested in such a full-time role — at least at the present moment. ESPN is high on Vince Carter, though Carter wants to play one more season.
Jefferson and Williams are liked because of their willingness to be outspoken. Williams already has a big role on college hoops, including its signature “GameDay” program.
Jefferson has big goals, wanting to one day make a Michael Strahan-like crossover into more than just sports. CBS, after Jefferson did a handful of games last season, has shown interest in him as a college analyst, according to sources. YES loved his work on Nets’ games.
Beadle is at a career crossroads after she had similar problems during a brief stint with NBC.
ESPN welcomed her back and she has become an even bigger star in her second go-around. She may still survive, but it is no sure thing. “Get Up!” improved both as a program and with its rating without her.
There were other factors — such as cutting it from three hours to two and tightening the format around Mike Greenberg — for its success. Still, there is before and after Beadle time at “Get Up!”
The ESPN culture will put up with some things, but the place has a team mentality. If you stray from that, you’d better produce — big-time.