‘NBA’ has new game plan

'Stuff' in works at ABC
By John Dempsey

Popular on Variety

'Stuff' in works at ABC

“NBA Inside Stuff” soon will dribble into its 15th season, and ABC will try to pump new life into the weekly TV magazine by moving it from Saturday to Sunday and focusing more on the reality of players’ lives, both on and off the court.

“We’re going to take advantage of the access we have to the players, coaches and officials,” said Ahmad Rashad, executive producer and co-host of “Stuff” since it began on NBC in October 1990. Rashad also interviews players and delivers on-air commentary for use by ESPN and ABC during the halftime of NBA games.

Rashad said “Stuff” got off track somewhat in the last two seasons “because ABC locked us into a timeslot that didn’t fit the content, causing the show to suffer in the ratings.”

ABC took over the show from NBC in fall 2000 after the Peacock decided to pass on renewing its contract as the exclusive broadcast network for National Basketball Assn. games.

But its Saturday at 12:30 p.m. slot on ABC put “Stuff” at the tail end of the network’s Saturday-morning cartoon block. Many of the 18- to 34-year-old viewers who were drawn to the show on NBC throughout the ’90s failed to follow it to its new network home.

The beauty of the new time period, Rashad said, is that, beginning Sept. 12, the show will lead into the regular lineup of sports programming that ABC schedules on Sunday, such as golf, figure skating and Indianapolis speed races. (With the exception of Christmas Day, NBA games won’t start airing on the network until January, when ratings improve as jockeying for playoff positions becomes more intense.)

For the 2003-04 season, the number of total viewers of “Stuff” dropped 6% compared with the previous season; teenage viewership plunged from a 0.6 rating last season to a 0.4, a decline of 33%.

Rashad said the show’s audience is ready for “more documentary-like pieces, behind-the-scenes looks at stuff like what goes on during an NBA training camp.”

The show’s profiles will go deeper, he said, following individual players for a week or more of what Rashad calls “unscripted reality.”

Each half-hour “Stuff” episode, which Rashad co-hosts with Summer Sanders, gets extra plays during the week on both ESPN and NBA TV, the 24-hour digital-cable channel.