On Monday, less than six days after the premiere episode of Barstool Van Talk on ESPN, the president of the “Worldwide Leader in Sports” announced that the show has been cancelled, effective immediately. The comedic sports talkshow, hosted by the well-known podcasters and “football guys’ guys” Big Cat and PFT Commenter, debuted in the highly sought-after 1:00am EDT time slot on ESPN2 last Wednesday morning (we all know that really means Tuesday night).
As you may know, Big Cat and PFT Commenter, their podcast Pardon My Take, and their incredible brand of humor-infused sports (or sports-infused humor), are an outgrowth of Barstool Sports, the smut blog turned sports media household name. Barstool has seen its fair share of controversies over the years of its growth (see: this, this, and this). Its founder, Dave Portnoy, even sold shirts emblazoned with “ESPN Lies” in response to the network’s coverage of Deflategate (which they deserved).
I was as shocked as anyone when I heard ESPN had struck a deal with a media company as controversial as Barstool to create a late-night TV for the “PMT boys,” particularly because of the network’s leftward political shift and aversion to anything remotely resembling offensive content. I was not optimistic toward the show’s probability of success. I even thought ESPN might have pursued a partnership with Barstool for the exact purpose of spitefully crushing it after a few weeks. Whatever ESPN’s intentions were, it took less than a few weeks.
Overall, I thought the pilot episode was a success. Broadcasting (though not live) from their exceptionally gritty van, nicknamed “Vanny Woodhead,” Big Cat and PFT introduced what their show was all about and interviewed Pardon My Take recurring guest (and that bald SportsCenter guy) Scott Van Pelt. They also gave us one of the funniest sports television segments I’ve seen in a long time—”Guylights,” sports highlights by guys, for dudes (and chicks).
It was clearly a trial run, much like the inaugural episode of Pardon My Take, but Big Cat and PFT are clearly made for TV. I mean, just look at them:
Unfortunately, their escapades on national television lasted about as long as the tenure of a Cleveland Browns quarterback. ESPN President John Skipper released the following statement this afternoon:
First of all, the second paragraph of this statement is absurd. ESPN knew exactly what they were getting themselves into when the put ink to paper on Barstool Van Talk. ESPN didn’t want to “distance” themselves from the Barstool brand—that was the whole point of the deal! ESPN’s ratings have been tanking lately. It was time to try something fresh, even if it did air a couple hours after most sane human beings go to bed.
As Portnoy said today in a Facebook Live video less than an hour after Skipper released his statement, probably “95 percent of ESPN” knows and likes Barstool. So why did the show get axed after one measly episode?
Was it Portnoy’s history beefing with the network or the insults he’s hurled at some of their employees? No, that’s been known for years.
Was it the ratings? Well, they weren’t remarkable, but then why is Megyn Kelly’s new show still on the air?
How about the minor jabs Big Cat and PFT took at ESPN’s brand in the first episode? Nope, ESPN said they “approved the content.”
In reality, the cancellation probably arose from employees inside ESPN who were completely, dare I say it, triggered by their company’s new partnership with those bigoted heathens over at Barstool. The Stool’s history of controversy, especially episodes involving accusations of misogyny, was too much for members of MS-ESPN-BC. The thing they don’t understand about Barstool is that they make fun of everyone equally; they’re as misunderstood as South Park. It’s not the cleanest of humor, but ESPN obviously knew that.
ESPN better pray that Big Cat and PFT stick to their smash-hit podcast for a while in the aftermath of their show’s one-episode run. However, if I were an executive at FS1 or NBC Sports, I would be chomping at the bit to get the wheels on Vanny Woodhead spinning again.
I don’t feel bad for ESPN one bit. They are completely out of touch with what average viewers want to see. The guys from Pardon My Take offered them a chance to bring some of those viewers back to the Worldwide Leader, but they let the politics of thin skin dictate their programming. Let’s see if that’s a sustainable business model.