ESPN is betting on an old basketball favorite to help save at least a few days on its programming schedule
Scrambling to fill its grid in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and its effect on live sports, the Disney-owned sports-media giant it would debut “The Last Dance,” a 10-part documentary series centered on NBA great Michael Jordan’s last season with the Chicago Bulls, on Sunday nights over five weeks from April 19 through May 17. The series will also be available outside of the U.S. on Netflix. ESPN had previously planned to launch the series in June.
The New York Post previously reported the change, which will give ESPN something new and distinctive to show viewers at a time when its main product – live matches in basketball, baseball and other sports – are impossible to produce.
“As society navigates this time without live sports, viewers are still looking to the sports world to escape and enjoy a collective experience. We’ve heard the calls from fans asking us to move up the release date for this series, and we’re happy to announce that we’ve been able to accelerate the production schedule to do just that,” ESPN said in a prepared statement. “This project celebrates one of the greatest players and dynasties ever, and we hope it can serve as a unifying entertainment experience to fill the role that sports often play in our lives, telling a story that will captivate everyone, not just sports fans.”
The series has been much-anticipated, and ESPN was likely prepared to run it in proximity to the NBA Finals, which would have generated an audience likely to be interested in the “Last Dance” tale. The series is directed by Jason Hehir, and features never-before-seen footage from the 1997-98 season as the team pursued its sixth NBA championship in eight years.
The docu-series will incorporate profiles of Jordan’s key teammates, including Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and Steve Kerr, as well as head coach Phil Jackson. It also uses dozens of current interviews with rivals and other basketball figures. The series is produced by Mandalay Sports Media, in association with NBA Entertainment and Jump 23.
“Michael Jordan and the ‘90s Bulls weren’t just sports superstars, they were a global phenomenon,” said Hehir, the director, in a statement. “Making ‘The Last Dance’ was an incredible opportunity to explore the extraordinary impact of one man and one team. For nearly three years, we searched far and wide to present the definitive story of an era-defining dynasty and to present these sports heroes as humans. I hope viewers enjoy watching our series as much as we enjoyed the opportunity to make it.”
ESPN has largely been relying on a handful of its mainstay talk programs and a curation of classic games and matches. Executives have gone so far as to stock some of the network’s primetime slots with sports movies made by its parent company, and showings of vintage “WrestleMania” bouts from WWE.