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Lee, Tollin-Robbins lacing up for ESPN

Cabler's sporting a script for night of fiction series

NEW YORK — ESPN, whose first scripted series “Playmakers” bows Aug. 26, is planning to create a whole night of scripted series, opening talks for fresh programs with Spike Lee and with Tollin-Robbins Prods.

That’s the word from Mark Shapiro, exec VP and general manager of programming for ESPN.

Shapiro said the Lee-produced hourlong, revealed late last year, will focus on basketball, drawing on some of the themes the director used in his 1998 theatrical “He Got Game.”

Through a spokesman, Mike Tollin confirmed that he’s discussing a series for ESPN but said it’s too early to go into specifics. Shapiro said he’s interested in broadening ESPN’s reach beyond dramas like “Playmakers” into a comedy with a sports hook. In April, Tollin-Robbins (HBO’s “Arli$$”) signed a long-term deal with ESPN sister company Touchstone TV to produce TV series.

ESPN’s strategy of commissioning original scripted movies is also on track, with Orly Adelson (ESPN’s “Junction Boys” movie) exec producing a biopic on Dale Earnhardt, the champion race-car driver killed at 49 in a crash while competing at the Daytona 500 in 2001.

Also on the drawing boards, Shapiro said, is a biopic focusing on Pete Rose’s gambling addiction and written by Christian Darren, as well as a Gerald W. Abrams-produced movie about the runner Roger Bannister’s breaking of the four-minute mile in the early ’50s.

“Playmakers,” now in production in Toronto, will run for 11 weeks every Tuesday at 9 p.m. ESPN describes the series as an “ensemble drama chronicling the behind-the-scenes and off-the-field lives of the players, families, coaches and owner of a fictional professional football team.”

Adelson, John Eisendrath and Michael Angeli are executive producers, and Scott Brazil directed the first episode. It’s an inhouse production, under the banner of ESPN Original Entertainment.