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ESPN Films Announces New 30 For 30 Projects

Jason Barrett

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ESPN Films today announced several new 30 for 30 projects including documentaries on the ’85 Chicago Bears and the Duke lacrosse scandal, and the group’s first-ever miniseries event, “OJ: Made in America.” The third volume of the award-winning and critically acclaimed 30 for 30series will continue with the premiere of “The ‘85 Bears” on Thursday, Feb. 4, at 9 p.m. ET, followed by “Fantastic Lies” on Sunday, March 13, at 9 p.m. ET, both on ESPN. “OJ: Made in America” will debut in June.

30 for 30 strives to be the gold standard of sports storytelling and continues to deliver thought-provoking documentaries that give viewers a unique point of view into a particular story,” said Connor Schell, senior vice president, ESPN Films and Original Content. “The projects coming in 2016 showcase some of our most ambitious work to date and we’re proud to work with this diverse group of incredible filmmakers who have again raised the bar when it comes to high quality storytelling.”

“The ’85 Bears,” directed by Emmy Award winner Jason Hehir (“The Fab Five”) and executive produced by Vince Vaughn and Peter Billingsley, will look at perhaps the most famous football team of all-time – the Super Bowl XX champion Chicago Bears – on the 30th anniversary of their epic triumph. The birth of Buddy Ryan’s 46 Defense, the sweet-revenge victory over the 49ers, the loss to the Dolphins that ruined their perfect season and the “Super Bowl Shuffle” that was filmed the day after, are all topics explored in this film about a group of misfits who became the toast of football.

“Fantastic Lies” will return to the night of March 13, 2006, when Duke University lacrosse players threw a team party that ended up changing lives, ruining careers, tarnishing a university’s reputation and even jeopardizing the future of the sport at the school. The film, from acclaimed director Marina Zenovich (“Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired”), will premiere on the 10th anniversary of the party that ignited what became a national firestorm and resulted in a highly-charged legal investigation. Usually confined to the sports section, lacrosse suddenly appeared on the front pages of newspapers because of the lurid details of the case and the hot buttons that it pushed: sex, race, class, violence.

“Our first two films of the year highlight the diversity of topics that we seek with the 30 for 30series,” says John Dahl, ESPN Films Vice President and Executive Producer. “The Bears film offers a fresh yet nostalgic look at one of the most iconic teams in NFL history while the hard-hitting “Fantastic Lies” goes far beyond the playing field with an examination of how multiple factors led to a miscarriage of justice.”

Another 30 for 30 film premiering in April will look back on the electrifying Orlando Magic of the mid-90s, directed by Erin Leyden (“The 99ers”) and Gentry Kirby and executive produced by Penny Hardaway and Shaquille O’Neal. Coming this summer, directors Judd Apatow (“Trainwreck,” “This Is 40”) and Michael Bonfiglio (“You Don’t Know Bo”) will explore the connection between the lives and careers of former New York Mets superstars Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden (executive produced by Radical Media’s Dave O’Connor and Justin Wilkes).

Also this year, ESPN Films will debut the group’s most ambitious project to date, “OJ: Made in America.” The five-part documentary is a miniseries event and the first episodic documentary by ESPN Films, starting a new chapter for the 30 for 30 brand. Directed by Peabody and Emmy winner Ezra Edelman, “OJ: Made in America” examines the history of race over the last several decades through the lens of OJ Simpson’s rise and fall.

It is perhaps the defining cultural tale of 20th-century America, one that centers around two of our country’s greatest fixations: race and celebrity. “OJ: Made in America” will explore these themes in tracing a personal journey, from how Orenthal James Simpson first became a football star, to why the country fell in love with him off the field, to his being accused of murdering his ex-wife and his subsequent acquittal and why he is now sitting in jail 20 years later for another crime. This 10-hour epic will have its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 22 and will debut on television in five parts in June.

Schell said, “’OJ: Made in America’ is unlike anything ESPN Films has done before and Ezra’s phenomenal work has taken one man’s story and, through it, explored the topics of celebrity, sports, police brutality, race relations and domestic violence.”

Sports TV News

Pac-12 Sources Express Concern With No TV Deal

“If we know anything about college sports, it’s that you can’t assume the status quo will last.”

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Pac 12

Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff has been unwavering in his timeline for finalizing the conference’s television rights deals. However, many inside the conference are growing impatient.

A report from Jon Wilner of The Mercury News details conference sources growing in worry about the unresolved rights deals.

“The Pac-12 cannot get overconfident,” one source told Wilner. “If we know anything about college sports, it’s that you can’t assume the status quo will last.”

Kliavkoff’s lack of urgency is explained by his belief that Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, and Utah won’t receive enough revenue from the Big 12 to explore a move to that conference, while the Big Ten reportedly remains reluctant to poach Oregon, Washington, Cal, and Stanford. The recent departure of Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren only cements that position.

The Pac-12 is the only Power 5 conference with remaining football inventory until 2031, giving it a position of strength. Wilner posits if Turner, Amazon, or Apple want Power 5 television rights, “there’s only one place to turn”.

However, sources inside the conference are worried about overplaying its hand.

“If you slow-play it,” the source told Wilner, “you become vulnerable to the unknowns.”

The conference reportedly sent “robust” proposals to ESPN and Amazon Prime Video to secure the conference’s television rights, but nothing has been finalized.

In the past, Kliavkoff has believed the conference’s women’s basketball schedule is an important factor in the television rights negotiations.

“I think women’s basketball is our fastest-growing television sport,” Kliavkoff said in November. “Ratings are increasing faster than any other sport. And I think it’s one of the sports that has been undervalued traditionally, in media rights. I think that provides a great opportunity.”

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Sports TV News

LIV Golf To Debut on The CW Next Month

“Saturday and Sunday competitions will be available both on The CW and The CW app. Friday events will only be available to stream through the app.”

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The deal is done. All 14 events in the 2023 LIV Golf season will air on The CW. The tour and the network have agreed to a multi-year deal which finally puts the upstart LIV Golf on television in the United States.

LIV Golf makes its CW debut next month. The network will carry LIV’s competition at the Mayakoba Resort’s El Camaleón course in Mexico from February 24th-26th.

“This is a momentous day for LIV Golf as this partnership is about more than just media rights. The CW’s nationwide reach as America’s fifth broadcast network will provide accessibility for our fans and maximum exposure for our athletes and partners,” CEO & Commissioner of LIV Golf Greg Norman said in a press release. “The CW recognizes the enormous interest in and potential of our league and with their support, more fans will experience the energy and innovative competition that LIV Golf is using to reinvigorate the sport.”

The arrangement is unique. Saturday and Sunday competitions will be available both on The CW and The CW app. Friday events will only be available to stream through the app.

Finding a television partner has yielded some very public struggles for LIV Golf. The tour went without a media partner in the United States for its first season. All events were available for free exclusively online. Norman told ESPN Chicago that all four major networks spoke with LIV Golf, but those talks did not result in a deal. Apple and Amazon also reportedly passed with Apple saying the league and its backing from Saudi Arabia were “too toxic”.

Dennis Miller, president of The CW, sees the tour as a smaller piece in a larger strategy to remake the network.

“For The CW, our partnership with LIV Golf marks a significant milestone in our goal to re-engineer the network with quality, diversified programming for our viewers, advertisers, and CW affiliates. This also marks the first time in The CW’s 17-year history that the network is the exclusive broadcast home for live mainstream sports,” he said.

LIV Golf is not the only sport that The CW has been connected to in recent months. The network has also explored launching a college football bowl game in Cincinnati.

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Sports TV News

Pardon The Interruption Sees Highest-Rated Show in Five Years

It is the largest audience for the show since January 9th, 2018.

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ESPN’s Pardon The Interruption has reason to celebrate. The show’s highest-rated broadcast in five years aired earlier this week.

On Monday, January 16th, 1.1 million viewers tuned into Pardon The Interruption. It is the largest audience for the show since January 9th, 2018.

The program was helped by being a lead-in to the network’s coverage of the NFC Super Wild Card game that featured the Dallas Cowboys facing Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That game broadcast saw the most-watched NFL game from a Disney-owned network since Super Bowl XL in 2006. 30.6 million viewers tuned into the Cowboys victory.

The show — hosted by Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser — airs at 5:30 PM ET and has been a staple program in ESPN’s afternoon lineup since launching in 2001.

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