NBA angling to drive fictional series

Association discussing future sitcoms, cartoons

NEW YORK — The National Basketball Assn. will rake in more than $50 million domestically this year from non-game programming, but the league is frustrated that it has not yet come up with the right format for a sitcom or an animated series.

Two years ago, the NBA signed a deal with Columbia TriStar TV to produce a sitcom focusing on the behind-the-scenes activity of a fictional NBA team. “We got through the script-development phase,” said Gregg Winik, executive VP of programming for NBA Entertainment, but Columbia never felt confident enough to give the go-ahead for production of the pilot.

Similarly, none of the ideas for an animated series that surfaced over the last few years resulted in a production commitment. But sources say future sitcoms and cartoons dealing with NBA themes and characters are included in discussions now under way over the renewal of the league’s broadcast contract with NBC and its cable TV agreement with AOL Time Warner’s TNT and TBS.

For example, NBC Prods. could become the incubator for a sitcom about an NBA team featuring characters like an assistant coach who’s scheming to take over as head coach, and a sixth man who’s desperate to crash the starting lineup.

And AOL/TW owns the Cartoon Network, which has ramped up its production of original animated series in the last couple of years and would jump at the chance to schedule a weekly cartoon featuring the likenesses of NBA stars.

“The key criterion for us is that any scripted series we undertake should be as authentic as we can make it,” said Winik.

The NBA is working with the developers of “Ball,” a legit musical about playground basketball stars who aspire to become NBA players. Winik said the NBA will help the producers to market the musical if it goes into production.

The NBA has signed a deal with ESPN for a 13-episode reality series dealing with the daily lives of the young players on the North Charleston Lowgators, one of the teams in the NBA’s new developmental league, which kicks off this year. ESPN will start running the series in mid-January, Winik said.

The Food Network’s occasional series “NBA Cafe,” featuring Bobby Flay, a celebrity chef, who interviews players about their eating habits, has generated more calls and e-mails than any other program in recent memory, said Winik.

But the granddaddy of all the shows under Winik’s aegis is “Inside Stuff,” the weekly half-hour series on NBC’s Saturday-morning schedule hosted by Ahmad Rashad. It’s one of the longest-running series on TV in any category, now going into its 12th year.

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