If it were up to Jasmine Alexander, ESPN viewers would see a lot more Joel Embiid.
Alexander, producer of ESPN’s much-hyped relaunch of the 6 p.m. hour of SportsCenter with new hosts Michael Smith and Jemele Hill, is a Philly girl, born and raised.
“In my career as a producer, I’ve never been able to define something,” Alexander said. “For that to be the next chapter of SportsCenter is unreal.”
There’s a lot riding on the success of the show. Amid ratings declines, increased competition, and a revenue crunch brought on by cord-cutters, ESPN is trying to shake up its flagship brand. Last week, it was hard to avoid interviews with Smith and Hill as ESPN’s media machine went full speed promoting the new show, which is among the network’s largest content initiatives this year.
SC6 with Michael and Jemele is the latest attempt to reinvent the long-running show, and so far, the results have been promising. A revamped edition of the network’s late-night SportsCenter hosted by Scott Van Pelt that launched in September has had a ratings bump, leading to the launch of Stan Verrett and Neil Everett’s West Coast SportsCenter. There’s also the Coast to Coast version, hosted by David Lloyd and Cari Champion from noon to 1:30 p.m.
Then there's the rumored breakup of Mike & Mike, ESPN Radio’s most successful show, which could land Mike Greenberg in the chair of a new morning SportsCenter. That would likely force Temple alum Kevin Negandhi, who hosts the 7 a.m. weekday edition of SportsCenter, into another slot on the network.
For someone surrounded by moves, rumors, and large expectations, Alexander is remarkably calm and upbeat.
“Not to sound too optimistic, but I just envision greatness,” Alexander said. “Our talented team, from the crew to the hosts, just want to entertain people. I don’t see how that can’t come out great.”
Growing up in North Philadelphia, Alexander (then Jasmine Ellis) was a huge sports fan. She got so excited whenever the Eagles played the Cowboys, she thought their meet-ups were the Super Bowl, until she became old enough to realize the championship doesn’t happen twice a year. But her passion, from elementary school through her senior year at Philadelphia High School for Girls all the way to the University of Southern California, was journalism.
Alexander interned at the Philadelphia Daily News and worked on the news side at several stations, but at every stop she made, sports kept calling out to her. When she landed a role as a news producer at Action News at 6ABC, she didn't know it would turn out to be the perfect platform to land a job at a place she coveted: ESPN.
“I realized I hadn’t been going after what I wanted to do,” Alexander said. “I’d been good at producing, and working at Action News was a dream job, but I wanted a new challenge.”
Alexander got her big break at ESPN in early 2015, when she was hired as a segment producer. It wasn’t long before higher-ups moved her to the 6 p.m. hour of SportsCenter, where she’s now responsible for reimagining a classic brand she grew up with.
“Previously on SportsCenter, hosts would give the news and bring on experts to react to what’s happening,” Alexander said. "In Michael and Jemele, you have built-in journalists who can share their own opinion in a thoughtful and entertaining way. That sets us apart from what we were doing before.”
Alexander would love to shoehorn any coverage of Philadelphia sports she can into her new show, especially the up-and-coming Sixers, whom she's rooted for since high school. But she's also realistic about the lack of national interest in most of the city's teams at the moment.
"Everyone in Philly would be proud of me if I got local stuff into the show, but no one else is interested," Alexander said, added that working at ESPN has allowed her to appreciate other teams and sports in general in a way that's difficult sometimes in a local market.
But she did let on that Smith is a big fan of Joel Embiid and hopes to get the Sixers big man on the show.
"He's in on 'The Process'," Alexander said.
Alexander doesn’t take her role lightly. She’s also the aware of the potential impact of having ESPN’s flagship program in a highly visible time slot hosted by two African Americans.
“I think the lack of talk about having two African American hosts, that it’s not something that people are shocked by, is important,” Alexander said. “It’s just two bright reporters putting on a show. It’s normal.”
Alexander, who grew up watching Matt Lauer and Katie Couric on the Today show, thinks programs with a diverse cast like SC6 can impact a generation of kids in a more subtle way.
“I want it to make kids aware of all the opportunities that are available out there, especially for women and minorities, to create content,” Alexander said, a message she echoed when she attended career day at her former high school.
“My message was simple,” Alexander said. “You, too, can produce SportsCenter.”