SBD/March 11, 2011/Media

ESPN Earns High Praise For Documentary On Michigan's Fab Five

Documentary praised despite Webber's absence from project

ESPN's "The Fab Five" is "as complete a telling as anyone has done" of the Fab Five's Michigan basketball legacy, according to Mark Snyder of the DETROIT FREE PRESS. The "all-inclusive documentary," debuting Sunday at 9:00pm ET, is a "stunningly thorough history of the era." Snyder: "Told in six chapters, it covers more ground than one would expect." Former Michigan F and NBA TV's Chris Webber is the "central figure of the group," but he "refused to participate in the filming." Snyder wrote while Webber's absence is a "major dent for the film," the documentary "lets others tell his story" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 3/6). YAHOO SPORTS' Jeff Eisenberg wrote the 100-minute documentary is "being billed as the most candid and thorough look at the Fab Five that has ever been produced." It "touches on everything" from the scandal involving UM booster Ed Martin, to former Michigan G Ray Jackson "talking about being 'the fifth wheel,' to the cultural impact of one of college basketball's most famous teams." Eisenberg: "Even without Webber's presence … the documentary should be gripping TV" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/9). In Michigan, Michael Rothstein noted while movies "have been made and books have been written about the Fab Five," former Michigan G and ESPN NBA analyst Jalen Rose "believes this is a more complete telling of their saga, with a rare" interview of former Michigan coach and current San Diego State coach Steve Fisher. The film is "at points insightful and at other times explosive" (ANNARBOR.com, 3/8). On Long Island, Neil Best wrote "The Fab Five" is "excellent." Best: "The two-hour commitment is worth your time if you have an interest in the team, in the era and/or in the history of baggy shorts" (NEWSDAY.com, 3/9).

RUNNIN' DOWN A DREAM: In Denver, Dusty Saunders wrote HBO's hourlong documentary "Runnin' Rebels of UNLV" is a “must see.” The movie, which debuts Saturday at 9:30pm,  profiles the UNLV men's basketball program under former coach Jerry Tarkanian. The film, "while not defending UNLV, tries hard, through several 'positive' interviews to provide an equal time platform regarding the outgoing scandals" (DENVER POST, 3/7). In California, John Maffei writes the documentary is a "very revealing look at Tark's Runnin Rebels" (NORTH COUNTY TIMES, 3/11). In Boston, Chad Finn writes "The Fab Five" and "Runnin' Rebels of UNLV" are both "outstanding documentaries ... that you'll enjoy." But the "slight nod" goes to HBO's documentary, "mostly because a void is left in 'Fab 5' by Chris Webber's refusal to participate" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/11).

MARCH UPSET: In Houston, David Barron notes "Runnin' Rebels of UNLV" comes from a network that is "generally known for clear-eyed, hard-nosed documentaries," while "The Fab Five" was "co-produced by Rose." So you “would think the HBO film would be a revelation and the ESPN film a whitewash.” But there is “no question that the ESPN film provides by far the richer viewing experience.” HBO's documentary "clearly has a point of view, and its point of view is that UNLV was treated unfairly." Barron writes that is "hardly the nuanced view that I have come to expect from an HBO Sports film. ... What a disappointment." Barron expected "The Fab Five" to be an “apology for bad behavior in the same fashion as Billy Corben's The U, about the University of Miami football program.” But to his "surprise, it's not." Barron: “If you've got time for only one documentary this weekend, and I never thought I would say this, forget HBO" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 3/11).

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