NEW YORK — After weeks of reports that Barry Bonds won’t address steroid allegations on his new ESPN skein, the show’s producer said Wednesday the star athlete will respond on camera after all.
“We’re shifting slightly to align the content with people’s expectations,” producer Mike Tollin told Daily Variety from the set of “Bonds on Bonds” in Arizona.
Bonds will address the issue, among other ways, by saying he was never jealous of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa during their epic home-run race of 1998. A new book alleges Bonds resolved to take steroids after seeing the attention those athletes received during that season.
“Anyone who knows me knows I’m not jealous of anybody,” Bonds says in the scene. “I’m proud of what Mark McGwire did; I’m proud of what Sammy did. They lifted the game.”
Bonds says he was not in Ken Griffey Jr.’s house at the time another book, “Love Me, Hate Me,” alleges a discussion between the two about steroids took place.
Bonds has been dogged by steroids allegations for years, but the issue came to a boil several weeks ago after the two books offered details over his alleged steroid regimen.
When excerpts from the first book, “Game of Shadows,” came out, Bonds said he wouldn’t read it, and nearly every account since has said it was unlikely Bonds would address the issue on the cable show.
But developments have increasingly made a more detached docu difficult, and Tollin said producers essentially told Bonds, “We can’t put this on the air if (steroids) are not addressed, because whether or not you’re happy about it, this is a part of the story.”
Tollin said Bonds now understands that and “welcomes the opportunity to make some comments about it.”
ESPN has committed to airing 10 hours of “Bonds on Bonds” — 10 half-hour episodes and five hourlong specials. Series, which offers unprecedented access to the superstar, bows April 3, the first full day of the baseball season.
Tollin also said the show could be extended beyond its July end date if Bonds is playing well and is closing in on Hank Aaron’s career home-run record. He needs 48 to break the record.
ESPN Original Entertainment exec producer Joan Lynch said the net was committed to the show through mid-July and has flexibility to reup beyond that. “It depends on events. We’re interested to see if fans are interested in the story. We believe they will be.”
Bonds remains one of the most compelling characters in the history of professional sports. But ESPN could have an uphill climb if his Q ratings stay as low as they have been in recent months.
Tollin, a partner in Tollin/Robbins, which has been behind sports-themed pics including “Coach Carter” and “Varsity Blues,” has been emphatic that the show offers a nuanced portrait of a historic figure — even as current events vaulted it from a traditional docu into a potential news-breaker.
But he acknowledges there has been an evolution.
“We never wanted to do a reality series,” Tollin said, but “in light of the media frenzy surrounding the allegations that have come out in the two books, the balance has shifted more to cinema verite and coverage of issues of the day.”