ESPN getting in scripted ring

Cabler, Jay-Z take swing at boxing pilot

NEW YORK — ESPN is on the verge of greenlighting production of “Hit Men,” the pilot for a proposed scripted boxing series to be written and co-exec produced by John Eisendrath, in partnership with the hip-hop mogul Jay-Z and Def Jam.

Eisendrath did the honors on ESPN’s first scripted series “Playmakers,” about a fictional pro football league, which harvested solid Nielsens but got cancelled after one season, a victim of NFL pressure. The league kicked up a fuss mainly because the characters in “Playmakers” were flawed — one was dependent on cocaine and another beat his wife.

A spokesman for ESPN Original Entertainment declined to discuss “Hit Men,” but if pilot goes to series and becomes a success, the network won’t face the kind of resistance mobilized by the NFL, which threatened not to renew its contract with ESPN to carry weekly regular-season games.

ESPN has not yet come up with its first successful scripted series. “Hit Men,” which deals with the fictional Hit Men Boxing Club, an organization that helps down-at-heels athletes, is the third attempt, following “Playmakers” and “Tilt.” Set in the world of high-stakes poker, “Tilt” also lasted only one season.

Eisendrath is also working on a cop series for ESPN’s sister network ABC set in post-Katrina New Orleans (Daily Variety, Oct. 18).

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