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Volume 26 No. 59
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New ESPN Series To Focus On Stories Behind High-Profile Events

The debut episode of "Backstory" will focus on Williams' rift with a U.S. Open umpire during last year's final
Photo: getty images

ESPN is launching a new series that execs describe as a "mix of the network’s long-running '30 For 30' magazine and a detective working his or her way through the 'cold case' file," according to Brian Steinberg of VARIETY. "Backstory" debuts on Sunday, Aug. 18, at 1:00pm ET on ABC, as the first episode will examine Serena Williams' "controversial skirmish with umpire Carlos Ramos last year" during the U.S. Open final. Future episodes will "center on such topics as the story of baseball player 'Shoeless' Joe Jackson and the bizarre online hoax that besieged former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o." The genesis of the series "came when ESPN did a '30 For 30' on the last days" Bobby Knight spent as Indiana's basketball coach. Many observers have "wondered about ESPN’s commitment to long-form journalism as it moves forward" under President Jimmy Pitaro. However, ESPN Films and Original Content VP & Exec Producer John Dahl said that Pitaro was "among the people backing this project." "Backstory" has "no set time slot or network perch." The debut is airing on ABC "because open slots at ESPN were hard to find with lots of live-sports commitments already in the works." But exes "wanted to get the episode out to coincide with interest in this year’s U.S. Open."  Dahl said the schedule for future episodes is "a matter of inventory and availability" (VARIETY.com, 8/7).