First Take

Coordinating producer Lewis helps make ESPN’s First Take appointment viewing

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Today, Front Row publishes the first in a series of posts taking fans behind the scenes of ESPN’s First Take through interviews with key production personnel.

Antoine Lewis, coordinating producer of ESPN’s First Take for the last three years, juggles multiple production priorities on a regular basis, all focused on one goal – providing fans the most compelling and entertaining show possible.

In the second quarter of 2015, viewership had increased 15 percent from the same quarter in 2013. First Take airs on ESPN2 weekdays at 10 a.m. ET. Molly Qerim is the interim host with debaters Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith. Front Row asked Lewis, who is approaching his 12th anniversary with ESPN, about the show’s inner workings.

How do you and the team prepare for each day’s show?
It all starts with the 7:30 a.m. meeting to find out what are the pressing topics for Skip and Stephen A. Then I work with producer Kevin Reeder, segment producer Brian Bourque, associate producer Delena Turman and director Kurt Ackerman on the best way to craft the show for the ultimate viewer experience. Content and presentation are the most important items on my daily agenda.

Their goal every day is to use compelling arguments to bring viewers to their point of view. The intensity works for me because I share the same competitive spirit when it comes to being the best. I think the talent respect that approach.
First Take coordinating producer Antoine Lewis on his relationship with debaters Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith

How are discussion topics determined?
Our team determines the topics, communicating regularly about potential ideas. Then, we gather early in the morning to map out a show blueprint and determine the best way to transform ideas into television.

What is it like working with Skip and Stephen A.?
Their passion and professionalism fuse through the entire staff. Their goal every day is to use compelling arguments to bring viewers to their point of view. The intensity works for me because I share the same competitive spirit. I think the talent respect that approach.

This is also why I think our team works well together – we all want to produce great shows and strengthen the First Take brand. And we care about and trust each other, which goes a long way. It’s easy for people to come to work and execute; our staff really believes in what we are trying to accomplish each day. And, yes, we do have fun and laugh a lot!

What is the atmosphere like on the road?
First Take is growing into a unique, must-see gathering. There’s energy and loyalty. Mike Greenberg [ESPN Radio co-host of Mike & Mike] was a guest on the road with us and said Skip and Stephen A. “are like Tyson and Holyfield when they come on set.” People camp out overnight or show up hours in advance. Nothing stops the fans – not even rain or snow!

Unfortunately, sometimes we have to turn people away because the venue is packed. When we went to the Super Bowl in New York City, I watched long lines of people waiting in subzero weather. That’s when it hit me that we are really growing something. We have refined and honed our approach to what we do on the road, to deliver a memorable fan experience. I have seen people follow the show from state to state to be with us live.

What do you want people to know about the show?
Many guests request to be on the show specifically because of Skip and Stephen A. We also break more news on the show than people realize. There is a passionate and growing group of fans who have made First Take appointment viewing. We plan to keep growing and our goal is to keep doing what we do best for the viewers . . . and have fun along the way.

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