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Reimer: Farewell to 'SC6,' the most needlessly vilified show on TV

Alex Reimer
March 09, 2018 - 11:24 am

“SC6” with Jemele Hill and Michael Smith was not a good show. It was jumbled, forced, and, worst of all, boring. But unlike the other myriad of boring sports shows on TV, it wasn’t just ignored. Instead, it was vilified. The show’s perception was far more polarizing, and frankly, interesting, than its reality. 

ESPN originally touted “SC6” as the show that was going to change the sagging “SportsCenter” brand. Highlights and interviews with reporters in parking lots would no longer drive the 6:00 p.m. edition of ESPN’s flagship program. Instead, it would focus on the personalities of its hosts, and feature topics they care about.

“We’re being ourselves, we’re not being other people,” Hill said in the show’s first press release. “We wanted to do the type of show where we were just unapologetic about how we talk, what we wanted to discuss, our relationship as friends, and I think people connected with that authenticity. We just talk like we would if we were on the telephone.”

Thirteen months later, the show is over. Hill left last month and Smith’s last day at the anchor desk is Friday, per Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch. But in reality, those three sentences in the press release doomed “SC6” with a portion of the audience before it even started. 

Hill is probably the most socially outspoken personality on a network that’s vilified in Brietbartian circles as liberal propaganda. ESPN’s critics painted her ascension as the final step in its transformation from sports network to advocacy group. 

Hill lived up to her caricature in September, when she called President Donald Trump a “white supremacist” on Twitter. It was one of the biggest stories in the country for almost a week. The White House, always willing to throw gasoline on our perpetual culture war, called for Hill’s firing. ESPN did not discipline Hill, prompting more outrage from Tucker Carlson and Clay Travis. 

In an apparent makeup call, ESPN suspended Hill for two weeks in October, when she suggested Cowboys fans boycott their team’s sponsors. But it was too late. ESPN is now perpetually playing defense, shaken by a dwindling subscriber base and revenue. Cord-cutting is the obvious answer for the WorldWide Leader’s declining fortunes. The other is changing viewing habits. Ratings for everything on TV are down, except cable news, lending credence to the notion that Hill and Smith should have played up their politics even more.

That’s right: one of the downfalls of “SC6” is that it wasn’t political enough. It did not stray from sports like it had promised. After about six months, when the show’s champion, Rob King, was replaced as head of “SportsCenter,” the program reverted back to the old model of highlights and expert panels. The format only got more conservative in the fall, when Hill’s Twitter feed became national news.

“There was a time we weren’t even talking to each other (on air) anymore,” Smith said in February on journalist James Andrew Miller’s 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.”

It’s obvious Hill and Smith were frustrated with the direction of the show. Hill said “SC6” would be “authentic.” But yet, her spat with Trump was never addressed on the air. They put their blinders on and previewed “Monday Night Football” in the lead block. It was crazy. 

But even when Hill and Smith were freer to move outside of the traditional “SportsCenter” mold, the non-sports topics were more goofy than captivating. The show was never a lightning rod. 

If it were, maybe they would still be working together. 

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