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Post layoffs, ESPN signing on to carry MLB Network’s ‘Intentional Talk’

ESPN confirmed it will reduce its ranks of on-air and online employees. The number of job eliminations remains unclear but the company is still hiring in other areas and total personnel in Bristol is not expected to fall significantly.

With job cuts behind it, the focus at ESPN shifts to how it intends to rescale its efforts and ambitions both to cut additional costs and adjust to working with its diminished talent pool.

The initial answer: It’s going to become a little more like everyone else, in some cases literally giving viewers something they can find elsewhere.

ESPN on Thursday confirmed reports it’s going to start running some of MLB Network’s studio programming, starting with "Intentional Talk," which is going to run weekdays at 3 p.m. on ESPN2 beginning Monday, while remaining on MLB Network in its regular 4 p.m. slot.

Fans may be relieved to know that while ESPN plans to pare it to a half-hour during the offseason, MLB Network says it will keep carrying it in full.

One of the reasons ESPN is keen on picking up MLB Network fare is it’s reducing "Baseball Tonight" to weekly status.

It ostensibly will be the lead-in to ESPN’s "Sunday Night Football" telecasts, although there are plans to trot it out for special events such as the World Series, All-Star Game, Home Run Derby and Little League World Series.

So it’s a bold move for amortization and a retreat from producing the content for which ESPN has been known, and this is just the start.

Viral Peabody: Remember the good old days at ESPN? You know. Way back on Tuesday.

Sarah Spain found out the viral video about social media abuse in which she appeared last year with WSCR-AM 670’s Julie DiCaro won a prestigious Peabody Award for public service.

The "More Than Mean" video from Just Not Sports and One Tree Forest Films is difficult to watch. It enlisted men to read to Spain and DiCaro some of the hateful, crude and sexist tweets other men had tweeted to the sportscasters.

It raised awareness and spurred discussions even if didn’t stop trolls from being degenerate lowlifes.

"If there’s a deep thread of misogyny embedded in everything we do, it’s not like a video is going to make (people who think that way) suddenly think, ‘OK, let’s let women do whatever they want,’" said Spain, a Chicago-based multimedia ESPN contributor.

The good news, such as it is, is the video may have contributed to the push for Twitter actually to enforce its standards of user conduct.

The reign of Spain: ESPN has been a progressive media outlet when it comes to hiring and promoting women. It’s in this environment that Spain, a former Cornell University athlete and former Tribune Red Eye contributor, has become a notable voice.

Speaking to her standing, she will host the second annual espnW Women + Sports Chicago conference Wednesday, a spinoff of a larger event the company puts on each year in Southern California to bring together sports leaders, marketing executives, professional athletes and influencers.

Giving women such as Spain a variety of roles rather than pigeonholing her as merely a reporter or someone who facilitates conversations between male sportscasters shouldn’t be noteworthy, but it sometimes still seems like it is.

"It’s just a symptom of a larger societal issue," said Spain, who signed a multiyear contract extension last year. "If you live in a patriarchy and everything is based on these ideals of gender roles … it takes a pretty big sea change in beliefs and how you view gender differences."

Spain’s responsibilities at ESPN include columns for the female-oriented espnW website, panel-show appearances, reporting for "SportsCenter," her "That’s What She Said" podcast and "The Trifecta" weekly national radio program.

Post-layoffs, alas, Spain said Thursday that "The Trifecta" will become an exacta at least this Saturday as one of the two women with whom she co-hosts, Jane McManus, was among those cut loose.

Corporate punishment: What happened at ESPN on Wednesday is what happens at almost every other company in almost every other industry. Whether in banking or baking, job cuts are a go-to response when time-tested money-making formulas are threatened.

Even at ESPN, these were far from the first job cuts. (ESPN dropped three times this many employees just 11/2 years ago, although most worked behind-the-scenes.) They also won’t be the last.

What makes this somewhat unusual is ESPN still brings in an enviable amount of money for corporate parent Walt Disney.

The per-month per-cable household fee ESPN commands from service providers whether or not anyone in the home watches has continued to rise. But cord-cutters have reduced the number of households subscribing to cable overall stoking concerns for the long-term viability of that gravy train.

Also, ESPN’s high fee is predicated on having the rights to the NFL, NBA, MLB, etc., and that’s going to continue to be very expensive. (See ESPN’s nine-year, $12 billion NBA rights deal that began this season.)

So it was a bad time at ESPN for someone to have a contract up for renewal. Or to be contributing expertise that management decided it could get elsewhere. Or be toiling away on something that wasn’t a priority. Or just because.

Just like everywhere else.

Deep cuts: Chicago media consumers know just how much talent was lost in the purge, as dismissals included Chicago Tribune alumna Melissa Isaacson, who had been an ESPN Chicago columnist for eight years, and former Chicago Sun-Timesman Doug Padilla, a seven-year ESPN vet who covered the Dodgers.

Twitter @phil_rosenthal

When ESPN went on the air in September 1979, there was no running water for the couple of dozen employees at the Bristol headquarters, and they used port-a-johns and worked long hours fueled only by vendor carts at the construction site. That first 20,000-square-foot building still stands, but it has been expanded several times. The structure is now just one of 18 on a campus that has grown to 123 acres and nearly a million square feet.