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SBD/December 13, 2013/Anniversary Special Issue
The Daily Hits 20: When Sports Crossed Over Into The Entertainment Realm
Published December 13, 2013
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|"Sports Night" lasted two seasons on ABC's
Aaron Sorkin created “Sports Night” for ABC in '98, and the plot revolved around a fictional sports news show -- more than slightly resembling “SportsCenter” -- that focused on the ethical issues and personal lives of the characters. The two main characters were said to be based on Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick. The show brought a quick-witted, rapid-fire dialogue that would later characterize “The West Wing.” However, the show struggled to find an audience and was canceled after two seasons.
“The Simpsons” may predate SBD, but as the show grew in stature, so did the number of sports references. Sports personalities appearing on the show have included Venus and Serena Williams, Jeff Gordon, Danica Patrick, Bill James, Mike Scioscia, Bob Costas, Mitch Albom, Peyton and Eli Manning, Chuck Liddell and Mark Cuban. One episode even parodied “Moneyball,” with Lisa Simpson deciding to manage Bart’s Little League team using analytics and probabilities.
“Dancing With The Stars”
One group to take full advantage of "DWTS’" success, other than B-list actors, has been athletes. Sports stars ended up being the most successful group on the show, and in turn have used the show’s popularity to raise their profile. Since the show began in '05, Emmitt Smith, Apolo Ohno, Helio Castroneves, Kristi Yamaguchi, Shawn Johnson, Hines Ward and Donald Driver have taken home a dancing title.
Easily the most controversial show we have seen has been this fictitious pro football drama that aired in '03. It was the first original series created by ESPN and dove head first into sensitive subjects about life as a pro football player. The show also drew respectable ratings and some critical praise. In the real world, what the show revealed was the tense relationship between a sports property and a network, as the NFL made known its objection to the show’s content to its partner. After pressure from the highest levels of the league to ABC, the series was canceled after one season.
|"Any Given Sunday" remains a cult classic despite
having a disappointing box office take
This '99 film by Oliver Stone revealed the dark side of pro football, including drug/PED use, injuries, prima donna players and front-office politics. The NFL refused use of its intellectual property or use of stadiums, as it knew the film would cast a poor light on the sport. The film had plenty of pre-release hype and drew a cult-like following for its entertaining, boozy look at the game. However, it was not a huge financial success, taking in only $75M domestically.
The CBS reality series almost immediately struck a chord in the way it humanized the senior executives at some of America’s biggest companies. Sports companies have been a constant subject, as among the executives getting an unvarnished tutorial on the inner workings of their group have been Modell’s Sporting Goods CEO Mitch Modell, Cubs co-Owner Todd Ricketts, TaylorMade CEO Mark King, NASCAR CMO Steve Phelps and Churchill Downs COO Bill Carstanjen. Each exec walked away from the experience unnoticed and seemingly humbled.
|Danny McBride's Kenny Powers character
drew from John Rocker for inspiration
This brash HBO comedy may have jumped the shark, but the series, which began in '09 and recently aired its series finale, gave viewers an outlandish profile of fictional former baseball player Kenny Powers (Danny McBride). The series’ anti-hero channeled his inner Rickey Henderson, constantly referring to himself in third person. He also still harbored visions of pro glory, albeit at times through drug-induced visions. The show incorporated minor league markets in the Carolinas as Powers at one time played for the Myrtle Beach Mermen.
The HBO series provided a revolutionary look at an NFL teams' training camps with raw, behind-the-scenes storytelling. The Ravens were the first team to appear in '01, and the show instantly became a hit with viewers. The Cowboys followed (and have appeared twice), as Jerry Jones tried to tap into the value and exposure the series offered. While viewers loved it, teams were less enamored with it and the series went on hiatus from '03-06, when HBO had difficulty attracting a team. Most recently, the NFL has debated forcing team participation on the show.
This groundbreaking HBO series, which debuted in '96, gave us a new comedic hero in sports agent Arliss Michaels (played by Robert Wuhl). His coming and goings in the sports world featured a revolving door of sports executives and athletes eager to appear on the show, despite often being the butt of jokes and athlete stereotypes. The show was often critically panned for its inside-sports references, but its loyal fan base kept “Arli$$” on the air for seven seasons.
Cameron Crowe and Tom Cruise gave us one of film’s most iconic characters in the sports agent Jerry Maguire, which legend has was inspired by agent Leigh Steinberg. The '96 movie, which inspired a new generation of agents, also brought an authentic NFL feel, as the league agreed to participate. Reebok even signed on for product placement in the movie, and later sued when a fictional commercial did not make the final cut.
HBO again set a standard for original programming with the first real “60 Minutes”-style show devoted to sports. Others have followed, but “Real Sports,” which debuted in '95, has set a standard for its in-depth reports on sensitive subjects and the outspoken nature of its host Bryant Gumbel. Gumbel has used his parting shots to compare David Stern to a plantation overseer during NBA labor talks and telling outgoing NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue to show incoming boss Roger Goodell where he kept the “leash” he used for union leader Gene Upshaw.
Despite the decline in popularity for the sport of kings, horse racing is still fertile ground for an emotional Hollywood blockbuster. That was on full display with the “Seabiscuit,” released in '03. The film, which garnered seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, was lauded for the realism of its action sequences at the racetrack. The film was also a box office success with $120M in domestic gross.
|Cartman channels Bill Belichick to try and reach
his students during one "South Park" episode
The sports world is not immune from the edgy and often controversial satire of “South Park.” The NFL concussion issue was a subject for the '12 season debut, while other issues have included NASCAR sponsorships and Tiger Woods getting treatment for sex addiction. During a more memorable episode in ’08, Eric Cartman uses SpyGate as part of a spoof on the film “Stand and Deliver.” Cartman: “Bill Belichick proved that in America, it’s OK to cheat, as long as you cheat your way to the top!”
“30 for 30”
The “30 for 30” documentary series was the brainchild of Bill Simmons as a way to celebrate ESPN’s 30th anniversary in '09. The films tackled a wide range of stories and attracted many heavy-hitting directors. Original subjects ranged from Wayne Gretzky’s exit from Edmonton to Jimmy The Greek to Fernando Valenzuela. The project has been so successful for ESPN that it was extended past the original 30 films, with new topics ranging from Bo Jackson to John Spano.
“Friday Night Lights”
While the Buzz Bissinger book was released in '90 to critical success, “Friday Night Lights” would not see broader appeal until the film adaptation in '04. The success of the film led to NBC green-lighting a TV show, which was eventually moved to DirecTV’s 101 network for Season 3. The show garnered critical praise and ended after five seasons, capped off by two prime-time Emmy awards for outstanding lead actor and outstanding writing in a drama series.
This '13 film by Ron Howard profiles the '76 F1 title chase between drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda. Coming off the heels of the highly lauded “Senna,” this film also earned strong reviews for its feel and acting. However, the film has not been much of a financial success in the U.S., which has an audience traditionally indifferent to F1. The legacy of the film remains to seen, as awards season could give the film a lift.
"Saturday Night Live”
Many athletes have guest hosted “SNL,” but Peyton Manning’s appearance in '07 clearly stands out for its humor. Manning’s edgy sketch as a United Way counselor working with kids was epic, with the QB telling one small child who dropped a pass, “Get your head out of your ass! You suck!” His brother, Eli, also guest hosted in recent years, as has Charles Barkley, LeBron James, Tom Brady, Michael Phelps, John McEnroe and Jeff Gordon, among others.
Sports Hits Broadway
Sports have not been confined to the big screen and TV, with Tony Ponturo and Fran Kirmser bringing Broadway patrons the story of Vince Lombardi in '10 and the relationship between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in '12. The plays were great crossover and brought a new demo to Broadway plays.
The Celebrity of Shaq
The biggest of personalities, literally and figuratively, Shaquille O’Neal has parlayed his playful nature and business acumen into a career stretching from the court to the recording studio to Hollywood and now to TV. His four rap albums sold over 1.4 million copies. “Blue Chips” in '94 was a minor success, but then came the highly panned “Kazaam” in ’96 and “Steel” in ’97. Nevertheless, Shaq remained a bankable commodity during his playing career and extended that into retirement.
The setting of FXX’s “The League,” currently in its fifth season, is a group of dysfunctional friends and its fantasy football league. The concept seemed shaky at first, but Mark Duplass, one of the stars of the show, recently said that in Season 1, “there was a lot of groveling and begging, and a lot of NFL players saying, ‘Who the hell are you?’ Then the show kind of picked up steam and now it’s really wild to see the players who love the show and want to come on.”