Skip Bayless Talks Show Prep & Verbal Sparring With Shannon Sharpe on 'Undisputed'
The gears in the head of Skip Bayless are always turning, even after cameras stop rolling on the FS1 set of Undisputed. It’s where the often polarizing television personality regularly spars with his Super Bowl champ co-host Shannon Sharpe.
Bayless begins preparing for the next war of words around an hour after the last show wraps. On the West Coast where the author and journalist resides, he begins watching the games that matter for the evening. Lists of debate topics are formulated and given to executive producer Azzie Mackenzie, who runs it by Sharpe for initial responses.
The alarm clock is set at 2 a.m. for Bayless, up and ready to skim overnight headlines. Running on his treadmill, he checks out a highlight show before walking in for work at 4 a.m. In the end around 10 topics are chosen to fill the show. Bayless likens the process to cramming for a college midterm by the time he sits in the hair and makeup chair. It’s a process he has enjoyed dating back to his days at ESPN making a name for himself on Cold Pizza and First Take.
“I literally run to the studio every day one floor up and down a long hall because I’m usually late. I also like to get my adrenaline up,” Bayless said. “Then we do battle for two-and-a-half hours and call it a day. It’s a great grind, a grueling process...It’s the same formula we’ve been using all these years, and it continues to work at a very high level...It’s a blast. I jump out of bed every day eager to go to battle with Shannon Sharpe.”
With the NBA and NFL seasons heating up, we checked in with Bayless to reflect on his more than three years building up Undisputed and get some year end hot takes.
Do you guys have any pre-show rituals that you do before going on together?
Skip Bayless: Not a thing. We steer clear. I like Shannon. I feel like I know him maybe more than he knows himself, but by choice we don’t socialize. We keep a friendly arm's length from each other because it makes for better debates.We’re friends, yet he knows I respect him and that I will never take anything personally that happens on the air.
Occasionally, we edge into what you might think is a fight, but it’s just a vehement disagreement. He learned in our first year together that I don’t even take it to the commercial break. As soon as we break, I’m on to the next topic. Nothing is taken personally or carried on to the rest of the show, I certainly never take it home with me and bring it back the next day. What I love to do, and what I think he has come to love to do, is go at it as hard as we can. Occasionally, we can agree to disagree. And if the same debate gets carried over to the next day and the next until one of us has to admit defeat, if I may say so, it’s usually Shannon.
How would you say your dynamic has changed over the last three years?
I think number one is he trusts me more than he did in the beginning. That I will never show him up in any personal way, shape or form on live national TV. I will have his back with hope and trust he would have mine. That when push comes to shove neither of us would push the other off the cliff so to speak. And that in the end all I want to do is win for the show. Not just the debate. The show is what matters to me. He can trust I have the best interest of the show in mind and heart. I think he has come to see how I just live and die for the success of this show. I think he has gotten swept up into that force field because it’s a great force field to be in ...It's a show friendship, but it’s a genuine and deep one.
What do you think will go down as the biggest sports story of 2019 going into 2020?
I can only speak with Undisputed since I’m Undisputed-centric, and I’m immersed in this NFL season. I can tell you that in order of the biggest stories of this NFL season I think heading into 2020 is number one: Dallas Cowboys. Number two: more Dallas Cowboys. And number three: even more Dallas Cowboys. The story of the year has been Cowboys: contenders or pretenders? Dak Prescott: underrated or overrated? We do it almost every day, sometimes three or four times a day. It does not get old to us, and I can tell you it does not get old to our audience. They’re headed to New England that many people see as the biggest game so far this NFL season. I personally think this will be a Super Bowl preview, but that was my preseason prediction. And I am standing by that.
The second or fourth story is after a sorry first season with the Los Angeles Lakers, can LeBron James bounce back, win a championship in his 17th NBA season or does the now reigning NBA finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, does he now own the NBA as he now shares the same building as the Staples Center. That’s a huge secondary story that will emerge for us as we get out of football. Obviously, the Super Bowl is on FOX in February. Then March, April, May, it will turn into LeBron versus Kawhi. And I’ve got Kawhi in that battle.
You mention the relationship with FOX. With WWE now part of the network family, next year Vince McMahon is relaunching the XFL. What’s your forecast on how well they’re going to do this time around?
I think they learned a lot the first time around. There is a lot of new management, new teams, new coaches. I love the groundwork they’ve laid. They are now on firm footing. I got a good feeling about it, and I’m excited to see how the product has changed. They have a lot of big names, quarterbacks and coaches, that will draw my interest. I am looking forward to it. I like the first incarnation of it. I went to several games.
A lot of your opinions strike a chord with people, whether it’s positive or negative. And with Undisputed fully embracing social media, what would you say is the meanest or memorable tweet you’ve received?
I learned the first year on there that I don’t read any of my @’s or mentions or responses. I just don’t need it. I don’t need to contaminate my psyche with the bombardment of daily responses I might get for controversial opinions that are not controversial to me. They are just me and what I believe and back up on the air. I have strong opinions and welcome yours. I just don’t need to reflect on yours because too many of those get personal. I remember in 2009 reading a response about what was wrong with my hair. I thought the rest of the night if I had to change my hair. It was the last thing I needed to be thinking about. I decided I didn’t need that.
But we have created what we call #SkipRidesTheTrollerCoaster about six or eight weeks taking come one, come all questions. Personal, backstage, inside the show questions and answer them in 45 straight hard minutes with me staring down the barrel of the camera and firing back at critics or enlightening people of how the show is really built. That’s my way of responding to them and address any blowback of any opinion.
You also provide a platform for those you talk about to defend themselves.
I have an open standing policy that any athlete who has an issue with me. They are welcome to come in and sit down and have all the time they want to express their own point-of-view and issue with me. I will then respond, and they would have all the time within our time frame to respond back. Hopefully, we’ll have a productive conversation.
The most recent one we’ve had was with Terrell Owens, who constantly attacked me on Twitter for attacking him and his view that I personally treated him unfairly that he doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame. I still don’t….We’ve battled it out numerous times on television. I don’t know that either one of us has come around on the rival party. But he continues to come on and I’m pretty sure scheduled to come on in the near future. I think we’ve had some meeting of the minds and been somewhat productive coming on. I think he appreciated the fact that he has gotten his full say.
I cherish that part of Undisputed. Another CJ McCollum of the Trail Blazers took a shot at me for taking a shot at Kawhi Leonard during the playoff run last year ...I said he quit on me ...I recently forgiven him for all that. I used to not even say his name on the show because he was just number two to me. CJ took a shot at me in which CJ had no idea of the backdrop of what led to my animosity. We invited him on, but we couldn't get schedules together. I look forward to the day he comes on and we can discuss my issues with Kawhi Leonard, and he can discuss his issues with me.
With the new year coming up, what are some goals you’ve set for the show?
My number one goal is to increase ratings, which we have done. We continue to grow in a tough TV landscape, and I’m extremely proud of that. We continue to obsess over what we do as we continue to fine tune our process. I just want to grow our chemistry, and the only way you can do that is through reps. Day after day, we are and we will get better. And I think our audience is reflecting their satisfaction of how our chemistry is growing.
Skip and Shannon: Undisputed, 9:30/8:30 a.m. central, Weekdays, FS1