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Stephen A. Smith Tightens Grip On ESPN’s ‘First Take’: Max Kellerman Departs For Larger Radio Role As Rotating Co-Hosts Get Set To Spar

ESPN host Stephen A. Smith is tightening his grip on daytime talk mainstay First Take, as co-host Max Kellerman is departing the show and making way for rotating co-hosts.

Kellerman had appeared on the show alongside Smith and Molly Qerim Rose since July 2016. Soon after Kellerman boarded as co-host, the show was upgraded from ESPN2 to ESPN, where it has been a steady ratings draw and a defining tentpole of the network’s daytime hot-take factory. Kellerman replaced Skip Bayless, who decamped for FS1.

The change in personnel on First Take, which had been speculated about in recent days, was made official today by the Disney-owned sports network. In an announcement of new radio programming, ESPN said Kellerman would expand his work on ESPN Radio from two hours a day to four and also host a to-be-determined TV series. On the radio, he will join a new morning program in the former longtime Mike & Mike morning drive-time slot, alongside Keyshawn Johnson and Jay Williams.

ESPN did not address First Take‘s changes in any detail, but said the show’s new format (which is expected to feature a series of co-hosts) will be revealed soon.

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Kellerman’s exit from First Take and a lack of a permanent replacement will result in a brighter spotlight on Smith. His presence on ESPN and Disney has already been expanding of late, as would be expected given his reported annual compensation of $12 million. He recently started a solo show, Stephen A.’s World, on streaming service ESPN+, interviewing non-athletes and sports figures alike. On Monday, he stepped in to guest host Jimmy Kimmel Live, joining a list of substitutes during Kimmel’s summer sabbatical.

A onetime Philadelphia print journalist, Smith has managed to outlast many in ESPN’s talent stable, and often appears multiple times throughout the broadcast day. Occasionally, his intense schedule and propensity for provocation have mired him in controversy. In 2014, he was suspended for a week over comments about former NFL running back Ray Rice, who was shown on security-camera video assaulting his then-fiancée (and now-wife), Janay Palmer, in an Atlantic City casino.

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