Sports, music specials highlight summer lineup

The MSG Network has beefed up its summer primetime lineup by commissioning a slate of six hourlong documentaries tied to both sports and entertainment shows at Madison Square Garden.

The first of the six specials premieres later this month: “Spring of ’94,” covering the 1994 playoff series by the MSG-owned New York Knicks, who made it to the NBA Finals before losing to the Houston Rockets, and the New York Rangers, who won their first Stanley Cup in 54 years. Together, the Knicks and Rangers competed in more than 40 playoff games in 1994.

In June, “Mecca of Boxing” will try to capture the atmosphere surrounding the 11 heavyweight championships and 50 world-title bouts that have taken place at the Garden since the late 1800s, including Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier in 1971, dubbed the battle of the century.

“Hip Hop & MSG: The 34th Street Beat” is the first musical docu, scheduled for July, chronicling Garden performances ranging from a Run DMC classic held in 1986 to Jay-Z’s “Fade to Black” retirement show. The clips feature, among others, the Beastie Boys, Notorious B.I.G., the Roots, Missy Elliott and Mary J. Blige.

Lydia Murphy-Stephans, executive VP of programming and production for MSG Media, said that one of the reasons for MSG Network’s aggressive move to original programming, particularly during the summer, is the departure from the network’s schedule of the New York Yankees and New York Mets.

Each of the two teams failed to sign a contract renewal with MSG and its Fox Sports Net sibling in favor of forming its own regional sports network, YES for the Yankees and Sports Net New York for the Mets.

These losses deprived MSG, which reaches about 10 million homes in the greater New York Area, of any big-ticket summer professional sports events, leading it to create a 10-hour docu series “The 50 Greatest Moments at Madison Square Garden,” which began on Oct. 31.

The three other original hours for later this summer are: “From the Big Apple to the Big Easy: The Concert for New Orleans Remembered” (August); “The Concert for New York Remembered,” held five weeks after 9/11 (September); and “Diamond at the Rock — 75 Years at Radio City Music Hall” (September). Radio City is owned by MSG’s parent company, Cablevision. The production house for all six of the specials is Star Crossed Pictures.

For next summer, Murphy-Stephans said she doesn’t rule out buying theatrical movies, but added that “they’d have to make sense to a network that’s heavily oriented to MSG and New York City.”

Does that rule out a movie like “Hoosiers”? “Absolutely,” she said. ” ‘Hoosiers’ would not be appropriate.”

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