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ESPN Is Developing a ‘Pardon My Take’ TV Show

Big Cat and PFT Commenter may be coming to late-night TV on the Worldwide Leader. What happens when the satirists board the mothership?

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The hosts of the podcast Pardon My Take, Dan “Big Cat” Katz and PFT Commenter, are developing a late-night show for ESPN, according to sources inside and outside the network. The show is being developed by Embassy Row, the production company behind Men in Blazers and Garbage Time With Katie Nolan. ESPN declined to comment.

The contract for Big Cat and PFT hasn’t been finalized, according to a source. The show would air on ESPN2. Details about what Big Cat and PFT would actually do are sketchy, thanks to what another source familiar with Embassy Row described as an unusually rushed production schedule. But the source said the show would likely hew to Embassy Row’s low-fi model, in which “content producers become on-camera people for not a lot of money.”

If Big Cat and PFT turn up on ESPN, it would be a weird kind of watershed for all parties. When it was launched in March 2016, everything about Pardon My Take, from its title to its artwork, was an arrow aimed straight at the heart of ESPN (if a friendlier critique than the one offered by a lot of others staffers at PMT’s parent, Barstool Sports). ESPN’s legal department thought the parody was so close to its actual debate shows that it sent a letter to Barstool, parts of which PFT Commenter gleefully posted.

“It’s a comedy show that uses sports as a vehicle to get a point across,” PFT once told GQ. “For anyone who’s watched First Take for way too long or woken up to the 7th repeat episode of SportsCenter in the morning, and find yourself being like, ‘What the hell are these takes that these people are saying?’”

In the last year, Pardon My Take got huge. Barstool claims the podcast attracts between 750,000 and 2 million listeners per episode. In developing a late-night show, ESPN is following the well-worn path of cable channels and even the networks, which have hired people with huge online followings (see also: Katie Nolan) and sought not just eyeballs in front of TVs but digital “impressions.”

ESPN is also opening the door of the mothership to the very people who would satirize it, a strategy going back to John Walsh’s hiring of Bill Simmons in 2001. (If you can’t beat ’em, etc.) In the case of Pardon My Take, the satirists have already been judged to be Bristol-friendly, interviewing ESPN personalities on their podcast and occasionally appearing on ESPN themselves.

One unusual element of the late-night show is that it’s being developed by Embassy Row. ESPN typically prefers to produce its shows in-house. For the Barstool personalities—who, according to a source, will remain with the website—that decision was a matter of comfort. Embassy Row has produced The Barstool Rundown specials that aired on Comedy Central during Super Bowl week and The Barstool Tailgate Show that airs on Facebook Watch. “Barstool was like, we like doing things our way and this is the company that’s going to make it for us,” the source said.

Big Cat and PFT have gotten so big that a recent CNBC article wondered whether they would leave Barstool to form their own company. Another question the late-night show raises is whether the Chernin Group, which owns a majority stake in Barstool, wants to focus on building its own, self-contained universe or lend out personalities for projects like this one. In any case, it’s a weird sort of creative merger. ESPN’s legal department once complained that Pardon My Take could fool viewers into thinking the podcast was “sponsored by, officially sanctioned by, or associated with ESPN.” Now, at least in the realm of late-night TV, its hosts might be.

Disclosure: Bill Simmons is the founder of The Ringer.