What is the PTI-Tony Kornheiser Succession Plan?

One of the biggest question marks in media is the succession plan for Tony Kornheiser on ESPN’s PTI.

A Twitter thread last week speculated about what ESPN will do when, and we don’t know when, Kornheiser eventually steps down. That got us thinking.

It’s not that Kornheiser is retiring or leaving tomorrow. He’s still one of the more entertaining voices on sports television. But he’s 74 years old and holds a coveted seat on the highest-rated show in sports.

In 2018, I interviewed Kornheiser’s PTI co-host Michael Wilbon about this topic. Wilbon, 63, said Kornheiser often jokes about retiring. Wilbon adds that while he’s unsure what the plans are at ESPN, he plans to continue PTI after Kornheiser leaves.

So who are the possible candidates?

Scott Van Pelt is the first name that comes to mind. SVP moved to DC, the home of PTI, a few years ago and is one of the biggest names at the network. His witty humor would fit right in with the format of the show.

There is, however, a question as to whether Van Pelt would want the job. He’s one of the few hosts who’d have a decision to make. Currently, he anchors the 12 am SportsCenter, a program that follows the biggest events on the network.

Following Monday Night Football is just as prominent as co-hosting PTI.

If not SVP, perhaps it’s Frank Isola. Known as “Fill-in Frank,” Isola is Kornheiser’s backup host and has chemistry with Wilbon. Chemistry defines PTI. Isola and Wilbon would be fun, an escape from ESPN’s more political programming.

One note: I would have predicted that Rachel Nichols would succeed Kornheiser before ESPN fired her after a nasty leak to help Maria Taylor get paid. Here’s a recap of that scandal.

Pablo Torre, a frequent guest-host, would likely receive consideration for the role. Though Torre failed on High Noon, it wasn’t his fault. How do we know? Because he co-hosted with Bomani Jones. Every show Jones has hosted, from radio to ESPN to HBO, has tanked hard in viewership.

Aside from Charles Barkley, no one in TV could offset the damage that is working next to Jones, the ultimate ratings poison.

There’s also a possibility that ESPN goes with a PTI rotation as it has with First Take. Wilbon may not want to work with someone else full-time — Stephen A. Smith didn’t (though he should want Chris “Mad Dog” Russo to be his new Skip Bayless.)

 

Of course, backstage politics and PR will play a role in the future of PTI. Showrunner Erik Rydholm is one of the wokest guys at ESPN. He doesn’t allow new white guys on Around the Horn and only considers panelists who have a resume of calling people racist.

Could SVP and Isola overcome the wokeness of Rydholm? Tough to say.

Rydholm has elevated some of the most unsuccessful voices at the network, like Sarah Spain. He programs for perception on Twitter.

So, when the time comes, don’t be surprised if he names Mina Kimes the new PTI co-host. That would sure draw applause on social media.

There’s no timeframe as to how long Kornheiser until he moves into full-time golfing. His role is cushy, after all. I’d guess he has at least three years left and as many as six. Who wants to work past 80?

Written by Bobby Burack

Bobby Burack covers media, politics, and sports at OutKick.

6 Comments

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  1. PTI is the only non-game thing I regularly watch on ESPN as its also the only [mostly] apolitical programming they put out. Isola would be the only person I would watch opposite Wilbon.

    Pablo Torre isn’t awful, but I’ve never been happy to see him fill in on PTI. Mina Kimes is flat out AWFUL. Aside from her political idiocy, she offers nothing when it comes to analyzing sports. Its all emotion and how she feels. Van Pelt is an arrogant douche and the reason I will not watch Sportscenter. When he’s not pretending to be a pro golfer he’s talking about all of his bad beats, pretending to be a world-class handicapper. Sadly, these are the three best ESPN has to offer I feel like once Kornheiser goes, PTI is dead

    • Used to watch daily until about 5 years ago until I could not take the left bs and have not watched it or anything but live sports on the 4 letter network since.And Wilbon is more than a little bit of a bigot which is another reason stopped tuning in,can only imagine how they slurped blm during summer of not peaceful riots.

    • Same. Stopped watching summer of 2020. I usually watched despite Wilbon, definitely never because of him. He is one of the original race baiters. He was doing it before it was cool.

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