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‘Slamball’ takes a three-point shot

Theus, Parnell, Clark, Little are new in-studio team

A team of Hollywood heavyweights have their eye on a whole new ball game.

“SlamBall,” a long-in-development new sport, will debut as a TNN television series with the intention of becoming a sports league. Concept comes from Tollin/Robbins Prods. and Telepictures Prods., which have drafted sports entrepreneur Pat Croce to get the game going.

“‘SlamBall represents what we’re looking for for Saturday nights on TNN,” said Jim Burns, the network’s senior VP of current series and sports programming.

“We’re not going to get the NFL or baseball — those things are locked up for years and years and years. They also don’t offer what we want, which is to be innovative, edgy and something unexpected,” Burns added. “This gives you a different twist on a sport. …. It’s something that our target 25-34-year-olds will hopefully be attracted to.”

SlamBall is a hybrid team sport combining elements from basketball, football, hockey and gymnastics pitting teams of four in a non-stop 16-minute game.

Played on a specialized surface that incorporates trampolines, the concept is the brainchild of 27-year-old Mason Gordon, who previously worked as TRP’s receptionist. Gordon developed and refined the game under the aegis of TRP and Telepictures, a division of Warner Bros. TRP is currently in a joint venture with Warner Bros. to create and produce network, cable and firstrun programming.

“It’s been more than two years since Mason came up with the idea,” Mike Tollin told Daily Variety. “He’s a resourceful guy, who has gotten involved with many of our shows. He basically showed up on my couch one day and made it clear he wouldn’t leave until I said yes.”

Added Gordon: “I sat down with one piece of paper and said I’m not going to move until I come up with something that nobody can say no to. And I drew the first SlamBall court.”

Gordon, Tollin, Brian Robbins and Joe Davola will serve as exec producers of the TV series. UTA, which reps Tollin, Robbins and their TRP, packaged the extreme sport series.

Skein will debut on Viacom-owned TNN: The National Network in July, as part of the cable network’s aptly titled Slammin’ Saturday Nights lineup. Saturdays on TNN, one of the MTV Networks, also feature the action shows “Robot Wars” and the WWF’s “WWF Excess.”

Broadcaster Pat Parnell, who among other gigs has covered Olympic snowboarding for NBC, will provide play-by-play for the show, while former NBA star and Fox broadcaster Reggie Theus will do color. Mystro Clark (“Soul Train”) and femme announcer Jaime Little (Clear Channel’s motorcross racing programming) are sideline reporters.

Six-team tourney

The debut season of the show will see six teams of four compete in a round-robin tournament for the championship. After the initial run, plans call for the creation of SlamBall venues in parks across the country as well as a 12-team national league.

The project at this point is a seven-figure endeavor, however, once the venue-league phase gets underway it will surely be a more costly experiment. Tollin said that he aims to start putting the league together this fall, following a hopefully successful debut on TNN. He anticipates launching the league in 2004, with the coinciding local venue roll-out.

SlamBall marks a departure for both TRP and Telepictures. Film and TV producer TRP is known for producing such series as “Smallville” and “Arli$$” and such pics as “Varsity Blues” and “Big Fat Liar.” It also produces “The Nightmare Room” for Kids WB and for Nickelodeon the series “All That” and spin-off “The Nick Cannon Show.”

Telepictures produces such syndie fare as “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” and “Extra,” as well as such network shows as the Alphabet’s “The Bachelor.”

“It’s fair to say none of us have experience doing anything like this, which is what makes it so fun,” Tollin said. “It’s very much outside of the realm of what we do at Tollin/Robbins Prods. It’s just so much fun, it’s hard to resist, developing a sport day-by-day, rule-by-rule, getting wordclass athletes to play and imagining our kids growing up playing it. But this will be the aberration, not the rule. I promise.”

Calling in an expert

Enter entrepreneur Croce, who ascended from the training room to the boardroom of a professional sports team. Originally a physical therapist, Croce built sports medicine empire Sports Physical Therapists, then sold it. He bought into the NBA’s last-place 76ers in 1996, and five years later the team won the Eastern Conference. In October, he joined NBC Sports as a commentator. Croce’s also a karate champion.

Still, new sports franchises of late have failed to spark, with NBC’s glaring failure of the XFL being the most recent example. Sony also tried its hand at sa hort-lived syndicated sports competish show called “Battle Dome.”

“Luckily we were early enough in development when ‘Battledome’ and ‘XFL’ had their go. So rather than our hearts skipping a beat, we were able to develop away from some of the things we saw there,” Tollin said. “But we were definitely cognizant of the XFL.”

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