Jamie Horowitz, the former ESPN executive who two years ago joined Fox Sports to jumpstart the fledgling cable network FS1, has been dismissed from the company, effective immediately.
In an internal email distributed to staffers earlier today, Fox Sports President Eric Shanks intimated that Horowitz's ouster may not have had anything to do with FS1's ratings struggles. "Everyone at Fox Sports, no matter what role we play, or what business, function or show we contribute to, should act with respect and adhere to professional conduct at all times," Shanks wrote. "These values are non-negotiable."
In the same memo, Shanks allowed that while the news may have provided an unwelcome pre-holiday surprise, Fox Sports is "confident in this decision."
People close to the situation said on Monday afternoon that Fox Sports had recently begun delving into allegations of sexual harassment at the company, which shares corporate DNA with its fellow 21st Century Fox programming division, Fox News.
A year ago, a harassment suit filed by former Fox News Channel anchor Gretchen Carlson led to Roger Ailes' ouster just two weeks later. Fox News prime-time anchor Bill O'Reilly and co-president Bill Shine were subsequently forced out in April, signaling the implementation of a zero-tolerance policy on harassment.
Horowitz has retained the services of Los Angeles attorney Patty Glaser, the litigator who in 2010 finessed Conan O'Brien's $45 million departure from NBC and represented Keith Olbermann during his exit from MSNBC and throughout his legal wranglings with Current TV.
In a statement released Monday afternoon, Glaser characterized Fox Sports' treatment of Horowitz as "appalling," before adding that "at no point in his tenure was there any mention by his superiors or by human resources of any misconduct."
Glaser went on to say that "any slanderous accusations" against her client "will be vigorously defended."
Fox Sports is being represented by the powerhouse firm O'Melveny & Myers.
As Fox Sports staffers absorb the shock of the Independence Day Eve bombshell, Shanks said that until a replacement is identified, he'll step in to handle Horowitz's former duties, which include programming, marketing and scheduling for FS1 and FS2.
"We understand how difficult this will be for many of you, but in these times it is important that we remain unwavering and focused in continuing the great work of Fox Sports," Shanks wrote before signing off.
Horowitz's bio was scrubbed from the Fox Sports website shorty after SportsBusiness Daily's John Ourand broke the news about his ouster. His dismissal comes a week to the day after Fox Sports announced it had eliminated its online writing staff in order to shift to a video-centric production model.
Horowitz joined Fox Sports in May 2015, shortly his very public departure from NBC News' "Today" show. Hired to shake things up as the morning show's senior VP and general manager, Horowitz left "Today" before his official start date. (Horowitz's aggressive plan to shuffle the deck at "Today" was opposed by longtime anchor Matt Lauer, among others.)
Since taking the helm at Fox Sports' cable networks, Horowitz had lured a number of big names from ESPN, where he'd served as the head of Bristol's original studio shows. Among the on-air talent that Horowitz lured from ESPN to Fox Sports were Skip Bayless, Colin Cowherd, Jason Whitlock and Cris Carter.
While Horowitz's "Embrace Debate" strategy certainly kept the sports-media world aflutter, FS1's studio shows aren't exactly robbing ESPN executives of sleep. In the second quarter of 2017, ESPN on average drew 596,000 viewers per day, more than three times the 187,000 viewers who tuned in to FS1 during the same window. Bayless' 9:30 a.m.-noon ET show "Undisputed" ekes out around 100,000 viewers per day, or about one-fifth the 499,250 viewers who check in for ESPN's "First Take" in its 10 a.m.-noon slot.
A new lead-in for Bayless' show, "First Things First with Cris Carter and Nick Wright," is set to bow on Sept. 5, the Tuesday after Labor Day. The show is the brainchild of Horowitz, who along with Shanks and on-air talent like Joe Buck, Katie Nolan and Howie Long, played an outsized role in Fox Sports' presentations to media agencies this spring.