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Michael Irvin, Tim Tebow, HBCU Wednesdays & More – An Inside Look at First Take’s New Format 

Stephen A. Smith: “I’m incredibly excited about First Take’s future."

In ESPN’s New York City South Street Seaport Pier 17 Studios: (L-R) Stephen A. Smith, Molly Qerim Rose and Michael Irvin on the set of First Take.
(Kelly Backus/ESPN Images)

Stephen A. Smith and host Molly Qerim Rose opened the new chapter of ESPN’s signature morning debate show First Take on Sept. 6. Catch up on some of the key changes and top moments that have happened in the last few weeks.

Antoine Lewis, First Take Senior Coordinating Producer: “We’ve gotten off to a very strong start with this new format. That doesn’t happen without the continued dedication of everyone on the show team – both behind the scenes and on camera – who quickly adapted and did everything they could to make the launch and first few weeks of this new chapter a success. From signature guests and creative specials to unique content and engaging debates, we’re excited about the future of First Take.”



Pro Football Hall of Famer and NFL Network analyst Michael Irvin has gone head-to-head with Smith in countless unforgettable moments. Irvin has returned as a regular guest to the show joining Smith and Qerim Rose every Monday during the NFL season.

Irvin on his experience so far: “I really appreciate how gifted the crew is and how hard they work. My first Monday on First Take, the set was covered with white boxing ring ropes on all the walls throughout the studio. I thought it was beautifully designed and set the stage for what was about to transpire every Monday. ‘Put your dukes up!!!’”



The First Take team showcased the start of its new era and welcomed Irvin to the show with an incredible boxing-themed show open.

Producer Michael Goldfarb on the creation process: “Senior coordinating producer Antoine Lewis wanted to swing big and come out with something memorable. I pitched him on the boxing intro open. Meg Drobniak directed the shoot from Bristol. Stephen A., Michael and Molly all came in on their off day to film. Associate producer Kat Seelig then worked with remote editor Lauren Bernstein on Sunday night to turn it around in edit for Monday morning. It was an awesome team effort to create something memorable to kick off an important new era for the show.”

Drobniak on the opening shot:
“This shot was the first time the audience would be seeing Michael as a part of First Take. We wanted to hype up that he was going to be a fierce contender for Stephen A. and that he’s as pumped for a battle of words as he was to take the field. Michael was excited for the shoot and even ad-libed checking himself out in the mirror, which we loved and added to the script.”




As part of the new format, Smith – who has been the show’s featured commentator on a permanent basis for almost a decade – now faces new perspectives on the day’s trending topics from signature guests every episode.

Smith on the new format: “I’m incredibly excited about First Take’s future. Considering the exceptional lineup of experts who already contribute to our show, combined with an enthusiasm that emanates from the close relationships we all have with one another, you can expect lots of laughter and entertainment, along with astute analysis. And that doesn’t even include folks from the world of sports and entertainment, where anyone from an athlete to an actor can join the debate, as well, adding to the fun and intrigue. I haven’t been this excited to do First Take in years. The future is limitless.”


With new voices, energy and the ever-changing nature of sports news, Qerim Rose – who has commanded the First Take desk since 2015 – has the continued challenge of directing the day’s conversations, live and in the moment with some of the biggest personalities in sports and entertainment passionately debating Smith in person and virtually.

Qerim Rose on her moderating strategy: “The most important thing for me is listening and being a great teammate. We have a lot of different voices coming through the show each week and I want to highlight the bold takes, yet also hold the debaters accountable. My goal is to be as prepared as I can, focused as I can and have as much fun as I can.


First Take’s weekly initiative to highlight and celebrate Historically Black Colleges and Universities returned this month in addition to special virtual shows surrounding the Cricket MEAC/SWAC Challenge Kickoff and the Southern Heritage Classic with more to come soon.

So many across First Take contribute to making these shows a success, including content producer and HBCU alumnus David McKinnon – who leads the content efforts for the HBCU specials – and senior production coordinator Elizabeth Hembekides – who works with each school for months to finalize the countless critical logistics – as well as Smith, Lewis and many more.

McKinnon on the impact of the HBCU-focused shows:
“Graduating from an HBCU myself (Howard University), it brings me great joy to see HBCUs being spotlighted on a national front. It’s important for a show like ​First Take​, which also has an HBCU grad​,​ Stephen A. Smith, to help make sure more schools like the one he graduated from get more exposure​,​ and being on ESPN and ​First Take​ helps bring that. Personally growing up, you didn’t see HBCUs on television. Many schools weren’t funded like they are now. It’s great to see the change in how HBCUs are given more shine around the nation. We are thrilled and excited to continue the outreach and exposure so many more people, not just in the U.S., but also around the world, will know about HBCUs.”



Heisman trophy winner and SEC Network analyst Tim Tebow has made many memorable stops to First Take in the past.

And he continued the trend with his first three Friday appearances of the new rotation debating Smith on a variety of football topics.

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