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ESPN debuts its original "Playmakers" series tonight at 9:00pm ET, a show about a fictional pro football team. The first of 11 episodes will be shown commercial-free and run for 48 minutes. The pilot episode presents issues such as drug abuse, marital infidelity, a player dealing with paralyzing an opponent, a veteran running back being replaced by a younger player, a coach pressuring the team doctor to allow an injured player to suit up and the coach refusing to deal with his own health problem after blood is found in his urine (THE DAILY). "Playmakers" creator John Eisendrath, on the show's allure: "What is it we don't see when we read the sports pages and box scores? What about the fears that the career will end, the money train will end, their bodies will be destroyed or they'll destroy others because of the violence of the game?" (USA TODAY, 8/26).
REVIEWS: An array of national media have offered their opinions. Following is a sample of these reviews:Can "Playmakers" Compete In
Quality Field Of Dramas?
BASIC CABLE: In N.Y., Alessandra Stanley writes, "It is hard to imagine that regular ESPN viewers will want to watch a show that is so suited in tone and temperament to watchers of TNT or the Lifetime channel. It is equally hard to believe that viewers who love 'E.R.' or 'The Practice,' will pick a football melodrama over other equally well-executed new shows this fall" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/26). But in Baltimore, David Zurawik writes, "The skillfully crafted pilot goes for the edge and finds it often enough to make Playmakers one of cable's most promising ensemble dramas since FX's The Shield" (Baltimore SUN, 8/26). In N.Y., David Bianculli called the show "another victory for basic cable." Bianculli: "The series should satisfy even its toughest audience, the pros who turn to ESPN to see highlights and features of themselves" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 8/25). Also in N.Y., Adam Buckman writes, "ESPN's very-convincing 'Playmakers' revives my hope that TV can make a sports drama and make it stick." The show's best feature is its "unwillingness to shy away from the problems that plague professional sports" (N.Y. POST, 8/26).
FOR MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY: SI's Richard Deitsch wrote, "A show featuring nudity, salty language and graphic drug use is a bold move for ESPN. But its realistic depiction of the seamy side of the game makes it look like a smart idea" (SI, 8/11 issue). In Charlotte, Langston Wertz called the show "awfully dark and full of language you're probably used to hearing in R-rated movies. ... [But] it's hard to take your eyes off of it" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 8/24). In Ft. Worth, Richie Whitt: "It's uncomfortable. It's raw. It's violent. It's racy. It's realistic. And, unless you have a weak stomach or strong morals, it's entertaining" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 8/22). In Orlando, Jerry Greene: "A good-looking and believable cast of men. ... Early scenes of partial nudity by females, always a plus" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 8/17). ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY's Bruce Fretts: "Essentially a soap opera — and a powerfully addictive one" (ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, 8/22 issue). In N.Y., Phil Mushnick: "The show might have been a creative success if it were not laced with vulgar language and nudity, but this is cable, so you don't risk it. You load up on the low stuff because you can, because it can attract an audience that favors the visceral over the genuinely artistic" (N.Y. POST, 8/24). In Richmond, Jerry Lindquist, on the show's attempt to appeal to younger fans: "How to accomplish this? By succumbing to the lowest common denominator via profanity and nudity" (RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH, 8/25). In San Diego, Jay Posner: "I wouldn't discourage anyone (except kids) from sampling these playmakers" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 8/22).Some Say The Show Plays To Public's
Growing Cynicism Of Pro Athletes
SEEN THIS ALL BEFORE? In Chicago, Phil Rosenthal wrote the show is as "subtle as a chop block and as bereft of surprises" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 8/25). In Miami, Barry Jackson: "Appears to recycle tired themes, such as athletes being busted for drugs. We see this enough in real life — why include it in a fictional TV show?" (MIAMI HERALD, 8/22). USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand: "The first episodes are so cliche they border on parody" (USA TODAY, 8/17). MULTICHANNEL NEWS' Melanie Clarke: "Familiar storylines have been modernized with shiny cars and silk suits, but the network shouldn't count on car-thumping beats to bring ratings" (MULTICHANNEL NEWS, 8/25 issue). In Philadelphia, Ron Reid: "None of the characters is worth rooting for, and the conflicts are so exaggerated that they get tiresome in a hurry" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 8/22).
GENDER BENDER: The N.Y. TIMES' Stanley notes a dearth of female characters and writes, "The overall sensibility of 'Playmakers' is feminine, but the story line is oddly free of feminist influence. The first two episodes, at least, have no interesting parts for women, only sports-world stereotypes" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/26). Westchester JOURNAL NEWS' Jane McManus: "A few flaws should be addressed in later episodes; namely, the lack of a compelling female character. (Note to the writers — pole dancing doesn't constitute character development)" (Westchester JOURNAL NEWS, 8/22).
THE HARSH REALITY: In L.A., Mike Penner: "The bleakness is unrelenting in 'Playmakers.' This is one grim fairy tale. There's very little joy in this football soap opera" (L.A. TIMES, 8/26). USA TODAY's Robert Bianco writes the show "is playing to the audience's growing cynicism about professional athletes." Bianco: "It's a great setting for a series. Too bad 'Playmakers' undercuts it with a heavy-handed and often pretentious script and with pedestrian performances" (USA TODAY, 8/26). In N.Y., Richard Sandomir: "'Playmakers' will not necessarily glorify football, as the NFL might prefer" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/24). In Atlanta, Mike Tierney: "The show's on-field collisions look bone-rattlingly authentic, thanks largely to ex-players who serve as consultants" (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 8/26). The N.Y. TIMES' Stanley adds, "It bores in on hairline emotional injuries and jagged personality conflicts: jealousy between players, the loneliness and humiliation of being benched, the lure of cocaine, the temptation of steroids and the fear of injury. ... Naturally, it is great fun to watch" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/26).
WELL-ACTED: In DC, Tom Shales: "If pro football bores you, are you likely to find anything intriguing in 'Playmakers?' Surprisingly, yes. It's well enough acted and written to sustain interest as a story of professional people under almost preposterous pressure"
(WASHINGTON POST, 8/26). Also in DC, Matt Bonesteel: "While there certainly won't be any Emmy acting nominations, the thespians themselves ... aren't bad" (WASHINGTON POST, 8/25). In Cleveland, Mark Dawidziak: "The cast is terrific, even when the dialogue gets as thin as the air" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 8/26). In Boston, Bill Griffith credits the acting of Omar Gooding, who "superbly played" Demetrius Harris, but writes, "It's hard to believe there's so little joy in athletes' lives" (BOSTON GLOBE, 8/26). In Pittsburgh, Chuck Finder: "The music is rad, the photography is cool (think NYPD Black and Blue) and the acting off the field is excellent" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 8/25).
QUICK TAKES: In Cleveland, Roger Brown: "'Playmakers' does have a moment or two, and it isn't a total waste of TV time" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 8/25). In New Orleans, Pierce Huff: "The early grade ... is 'C+.' It's a decent show, but I wouldn't plan my nights around it. ... It's weird the way the series picks up in the middle of the season" (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 8/24). In S.F., Steve Kroner: "Neither groundbreakingly good nor a totally lost hour. ... Acting: Solid, ... Story lines: Cliche. ... Believability: Varies" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 8/22). In CA, Michael Lev: "If nothing else, 'Playmakers' entertains. It is snappy and energetic" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 8/21). But the FINANCIAL TIMES' Ned Martel wondered, "Who talks like this, or thinks like this, or whatever this is supposed to be? The partial answer is most likely a Caucasian writer, straining to think African-American thoughts" (FINANCIAL TIMES, 8/23).
The following lists final Nielsen ratings from recent sports events (THE DAILY).
EVENTDATENETTIMERAT/SHR "NFL On Fox": Raiders-49ers8/14Fox8:15-11:15pm4.6/8 "NFL On CBS": Packers-Browns8/15CBS8:00-11:00pm4.2/9 X Games8/16ABC2:00-4:00pm0.9/3 X Games8/16ABC3:00-4:00pm1.3/4 "WNBA On ABC": Sparks-Comets8/16ABC4:00-6:00pm0.9/2 Golf: PGA Championship-3rd Rd8/16CBS2:00-7:15pm3.2/9 MLB: (regional)8/16Fox1:15-4:30pm2.6/8 AVP Nissan: Huntington Beach Open-W8/16NBC4:30-6:00pm1.2/3 IRL: Belterra Casino Indy 3008/17ABC2:00-4:00pm0.8/2 X Games8/17ABC4:00-5:00pm0.9/2 X Games8/17ABC5:00-6:00pm1.4/3 X Games8/17ABC7:00-9:00pm2.2/4 Golf: PGA Championship-Final Rd8/17CBS2:00-7:15pm4.5/11 Grand Prix of Mosport8/17NBC2:00-4:30pm0.8/2 AVP Nissan: Huntington Beach Open-M8/17NBC4:30-6:00pm0.9/2 "MNF": Bucs-Rams8/18ABC8:00-11:00pm7.4/13 Space EVENTDATENETUS AREACOV AREASHR000 Slamball: Diablos-Slashers8/4TNN1.51.841557 MLB: Rangers-Yankees8/6ESPN0.81.02865 NFL: Giants-Patriots8/7ESPN2.63.362819 MLB: Braves-Cardinals8/10ESPN1.92.442052 LLWS: Bryant, AR-Richmond, TX8/10ESPN20.81.02802
For broadcast numbers, one ratings point = 1,067,000 homes. "COV AREA" = % of homes tuned into that program in that network's universe of subscribers.
BRING BACK TIGER: CBS' coverage of the PGA Championship posted a two-day average of a 3.9/10, 38% down from last year's 6.3/16. Sunday's final round fell 40% against last year's 7.5/18. The third round on Saturday rose 38% from a 5.2/14 last year. Meanwhile, Sunday's final round of the NEC Invitational on CBS drew a 4.4 overnight, down 12% from last year's 5.0. Tiger Woods finished fourth, six strokes back. NBC's coverage of the U.S. Amateur Championship earned a 1.4 overnight, up 8% from last year's 1.3. Sunday's Little League World Series coverage on ABC garnered a 4.7 overnight, down 22% from last year's 6.0.
THE DAILY continues "Kobe Monitor," which charts television's treatment of the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case. The following is a sampling of the coverage, with the focus on primetime and morning programming. Some of the issues discussed last night and this morning were 1) Lakers C Shaquille O'Neal's comments on the case; 2) Mark Cuban defending his comments on the case being good for the business of the NBA; 3) Holly Robinson Peete expressing her support for Bryant; 4) Mike Tyson commenting on the case and his opinion of women; 5) Bryant's accuser, the judge and the DA receiving death threats.
SHOW GUESTTOPIC ESPN "PTI" Discussion only1 "SportsCenter" Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban2 FSN "BDSSP" Philadelphia Inquirer's Stephen A. Smith1 MSNBC "The Abrams Report" Panel of four attorneys4,5 OTHERS "ET" Lakers C Shaquille O'Neal
Holly Robinson Peete1
NATIONAL TV MONITOR: Last night's 12:00am ET 60-minute edition of ESPN's "SportsCenter" (late due to Padres-D'Backs) led with A's-Blue Jays, followed by Mariners-Red Sox, and the Mariners' recent poor play and six-game losing streak. The first non-MLB report, at 13:31 into the broadcast, was U.S. Open first-round results. ESPN's "Around The Horn" led with which injury is more significant for their team: Falcons QB Mike Vick or Jets QB Chad Pennington, followed by which college football team will win the national championship, and Pete Sampras' retirement. ESPN's "PTI" led with Pennington and Vick suffering injuries during the NFL preseason, followed by OH State Univ. RB Maurice Clarett possibly being suspended for six games, and Tiger Woods' "slump." Tennis analyst Mary Carillo discussed the U.S. Open during the show's "Five Good Minutes" segment. FSN's "BDSSP" led with roundtable discussions on Pennington's injury, the length of the NFL's preseason schedule, and Red Sox P Pedro Martinez saying he will leave the team after next season, followed by an interview with tennis analyst Bud Collins on the U.S. Open. ESPN's "OTL Nightly" led with "The Price of Loyalty", an examination of fan loyalty in the NFL and how the teams treat or mistreat that loyalty, followed by a discussion on the topic with Seattle Times Columnist Les Carpenter and Raiders season ticket holder Wayne "Violator" Mabry, who appeared on the show dressed in Raiders gear and face paint.
REGIONAL TV MONITOR: FSN's "Detroit Sports Report" led with the Red Wings re-signing C Steve Yzerman, followed by an injury update on Lions CB Chris Cash, and the Lions' roster cuts. FSN's "Southwest Sports Report" led with Texans RB James Allen announcing he wants to change his mind about his retirement and return to the team, followed by an injury update on Texans DL Gary Walker and LB Jay Foreman, and the Texans' roster cuts.
ON THE AIR LAST NIGHT: MLB Cardinals 2B Bo Hart was profiled on ABC's "World News Tonight" last night. Sampras was profiled on "Newshour With Jim Lehrer." Author John Feinstein also appeared on the show. CNNfn's "The Flip Side" profiled Sampras and reported on the U.S. Open, and aired a report on tennis training techniques by Tennis Muscle Memory Founder J.L. Cauderon with comments from Patrick McEnroe. Serena Williams and new Baylor Univ. men's basketball coach Scott Drew appeared on CNN's "Live From The Headlines." Former MLBer Jose Canseco appeared via a phone interview on Fox News Channel's "On The Record" after being released from prison. "Wheel of Fortune" began its "NFL Player's Week," with Rams QB Kurt Warner and former NFLers John Riggins and Richard Dent appearing on the show to play for charity alongside a contestant.
ON THE AIR THIS MORNING: Sampras appeared in taped interviews on NBC's "Today" and CBS' "The Early Show." Sports Authority CEO Doug Morton appeared on CNBC's "Squawk Box" this morning where he rang the opening bell of the NYSE Stock Exchange, and discussed the company's merger with Gart Sports, as well as the company's future rebranding efforts.
ON THE AIR TODAY: Golf Magazine Managing Editor Rob Sauerhaft will be on CNBC's "Power Lunch."
ON THE AIR TONIGHT: Sampras will be on CBS' "Late Show" with David Letterman. Winston Cup driver Jeff Gordon will be on Speed Channel's "Wind Tunnel" with Dave Despain. Bucs S John Lynch, female boxer Laila Ali and former MLBer Brian Kingman are scheduled to appear on FSN's "BDSSP."
Have a submission for On The Air? If so, please contact Mark Simpson at email@example.com.
ABC's "MNF" earned a 8.5/13 overnight Nielsen rating for last night's Colts-Broncos preseason game, flat with last year's comparable Browns-Packers game.
GOOD NIGHT: ESPN Dir of Communications Mike Soltys told THE DAILY today that as a result of low ratings, "RPM 2Night" will not return next season. The net cancelled weekday programming of the show at the start of this season, airing it on Sundays only. The last broadcast will be November 9. "RPM 2Night" is averaging a 0.23/ (194,000 HHs) cable rating this year, down from a 0.37/ (285,000 HHs) rating two years ago (THE DAILY).
NOTES: The Buccaneers' relaunched Web site includes a cartoon introduction featuring President Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, in which Powell tells the President that he has photographic proof of weapons of mass destruction. When Bush opens the file, "out pop photos of various [Bucs] defensive players." Bucs Dir of PR Jeff Kamis said, "We haven't had any complaints" about the cartoon, adding, "All the feedback we've received has been very positive about the new version of our site" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 8/26)....In Phoenix, Jim Gintonio noted FSN AZ is embarking on "its most ambitious programming run in its seven-year history" this fall, offering Suns, Coyotes and college football games, as well as three insider shows and a Cardinals special each week. The net will show 40 Coyotes games, 35 Suns home games, and "will broadcast a number of Diamondbacks games as the season winds down." Select AZ State Univ. and Univ. of AZ basketball games will also air. FSN AZ GM Rebecca O'Sullivan, on the net fitting in all the programming: "We've got everything on. We were concerned that we might have to throw something at [KAZ-Ind]" (AZ REPUBLIC, 8/23).
NFL@AOL To Include More NFL Content
In an extension of their existing partnership, AOL and the NFL have entered into a new multiyear agreement, under which a wide variety of NFL video and audio content will be available for the first time. NFL@AOL will bring AOL for Broadband subscribers, for no additional charge, on-demand access to video, including game-by-game previews and highlights; greatest rivalries and players packages; weekly NFL team spotlights; exclusive programming from "Inside the NFL;" AOL self expressions — in which AOL members tailor the appearance of their instant messages with the colors and logos of their favorite teams; and team and player alerts. Other features include access to the NFL Films Vault; Super Bowl highlight reels; breaking NFL news and event programming: and access to NFL "Talk Radio" and NFL Radio Classics (AOL). BLOOMBERG NEWS notes the agreement "is the latest in [AOL's] plan to offer exclusive content and features to lure subscribers. The Internet unit continues to lose subscribers as a growing number switch from [AOL] dial-up service to faster broadband connections with other companies." NFL Senior VP/New Media & Publishing Chris Russo said that the NFL "would make money by licensing the content to AOL and by increasing distribution to a wider audience of potential customers" (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 8/26). NFL Network President Steve Bornstein and AOL Vice Chair and Capitals Owner Ted Leonsis are scheduled to appear on CNBC's "Closing Bell" this afternoon.
PAID CONTENT: SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL's Russell Adams reports the NFL and RealNetworks "are making a full slate of audio and video content available on" NFL.com for the '03 season. NFL.com Field Pass "offers live radio broadcasts of all NFL games during the season, video highlights and previews of every game, video and audio of press conferences and other special events, and NFL Insider Radio, a weekly Webcast." Subscriptions are $34.95 for the season and $9.95 per month (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 8/25 issue).
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