Originals in new ESPN gameplan

Shapiro to o'see unit as cabler hunts for scripted fare

NEW YORK — It’s clear the next big game for ESPN is original programing, and Monday the cabler named its starting quarterback.

The net has placed its programming development, production and scheduling into one operation and promoted Mark Shapiro to run it.

Shapiro, formerly senior VP and G.M. of programming, gets the new title of executive VP of programming and production. He reports to George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN, who has also promoted John Skipper from senior VP to executive VP of ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine.

The gameplan is to commission more scripted movies and series, as well as producing and commissioning gameshows, reality series and documentaries.

ESPN is now taking proposals from talent agents for its first scripted series, which the network plans to put in production next year, with a commitment for a two-hour pilot and 10 hourlong episodes. Shapiro said his goal is to have the series up and running by the summer of 2003.

“Beg, Borrow & Deal,” ESPN’s first reality gameshow, premieres Tuesday at 8 p.m.

Production has begun on ESPN’s second made-for-cable movie “The Junction Boys,” starring Tom Berenger as the celebrated coach Bear Bryant.

ESPN’s first movie, “A Season on the Brink,” a docudrama that featured Brian Dennehy as the Indiana U. basketball coach Bobby Knight in all his foul-mouthed glory, scored a smashing 3.4 rating in cable homes on March 10, or just under 3-million homes, making it one of the highest-rated original movies on basic cable so far this year.

Film was critically bashed and achieved a degree of notoriety for its unflinching take on Knight’s penchant for profanity. (The version of the movie without the swear words for viewers of more delicate sensibilities ran simultaneously on ESPN2, where almost nobody watched it.)

ESPN has set aside Tuesday as the night for original programming, rejiggering its coverage of professional-sports contests so there’ll be no pre-emptions for as long as eight months of the year.

But there’s no guarantee with live sports because playoffs or rainouts could push an occasional must game to Tuesday in primetime.

Scheduling will be one of Shapiro’s main tasks. And for the other areas he’ll be trying to put together into one unit, Shapiro said ESPN made the personnel change because “it made no sense to run programming and production as separate divisions.”

As part of the restructuring, Steve Anderson, while keeping his title executive VP of production and technical operations, will report to Shapiro instead of to Bodenheimer. Anderson focuses on “SportsCenter,” “ESPN News” and other studio shows.

Also newly reporting to Shapiro is Jed Drake, executive VP of remote, on-location productions.

Another executive getting a promotion is Ron Semiao, who becomes senior VP of original entertainment. Semiao created and nurtured ESPN’s successful X Games franchise.

Skipper has run ESPN.com since January 2000. He took charge of ESPN the Magazine in December. Before joining ESPN, Skipper spent two years as senior VP of the Disney Publishing Group.

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