SBJ/Nov. 1, 2010/This Week's Issue

UNLV doc will lead off HBO Sports’ schedule


Controversial coach Jerry
Tarkanian led the Runnin’
Rebels program.

HBO Sports is deep in production for its first documentary of 2011: a warts-and-all look at the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels basketball team that was a powerhouse from the 1970s through the early 1990s.

The documentary will debut in March, on the eve of the 2011 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, which will be carried for the first time by HBO’s corporate sisters, TNT, TBS and truTV.

HBO executives say they frequently time college basketball documentaries before the tournament, like “Battle for Tobacco Road” in 2009 and “The UCLA Dynasty” in 2007.

The UNLV documentary will feature interviews with the team’s controversial coach, Jerry Tarkanian, and some of its better known players, like Larry Johnson, Greg Anthony and Stacey Augmon.

HBO Sports President Ross Greenburg approved production of the documentary because of the number of characters involved and a dramatic story arc that culminated in 1990 and 1991, when UNLV played Duke in the Final Four, winning one and losing one.

“Duke was America’s team at the time and was going up against a team of rebels, who were actually called the Runnin’ Rebels,” Greenburg said. “These kinds of arcs are what we look for in a story.”

After producing three documentaries in 2010 — ending with “Lombardi” on Dec. 11 — HBO Sports plans to produce four documentaries in 2011, one per quarter. Greenburg would not disclose the subjects of the other episodes.

With ESPN’s “30 for 30” series drawing attention over the past year, Greenburg remarked that the bar for sports documentaries has been raised. Still, he said the hype surrounding “30 for 30” serves to help HBO with its sports efforts.

“The attention ESPN is getting for ‘30 for 30’ increases the appetite for sports documentaries,” Greenburg said. “Viewers are still going to come back to HBO because they know it’s going to be high-quality television.”

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