Drama’s on deck at ESPN

Skein to preem as early as June, insiders say

ESPN is talking to Ron Shelton and Spike Lee about a scripted weekly drama series that would focus on a professional sports team.

Insiders say ESPN is gung-ho about commissioning its first fictional series ever, a two-hour pilot and 10 weekly hours that would premiere as early as June in primetime on Tuesday as the linchpin of a block of original series.

Mark Shapiro, senior VP and general manager of programming and acquisitions for ESPN, declined to comment on specific talent — Shelton directed “Bull Durham” and “White Men Can’t Jump” and Lee did “He Got Game.” But asked about the kind of series he’s looking for, Shapiro used Oliver Stone’s “Any Given Sunday” theatrical as a model that could translate into a long-running hit series.

“It’s about a professional-football team with a colorful coach; a talented, brash quarterback; a savvy veteran quarterback, and a young female general manager,” Shapiro said. “These are characters that viewers would end up caring about over the long haul.”

Shapiro said a scripted series is one strategic way “to extend the ESPN brand beyond the news and information of ‘SportsCenter’ and the constant schedule of live sports events.”

The network previously commissioned two sports-related original movies, both docudramas — “A Season on the Brink,” with Brian Dennehy, as coach Bobby Knight, and “The Junction Boys,” with Tom Berenger as coach Bear Bryant — and has a number of additional ones in development.

ESPN’s first reality gameshow, the weekly hourlong “Beg, Borrow & Deal,” kicks off Tuesday at 8 p.m.

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