ESPN Loses Programmer Shapiro

ESPN executive vice president of programming and production Mark Shapiro turned rumor into reality last week, saying he will exit the sports network Oct. 1.

Shapiro, who pushed the sports network into original scripted and reality programming, will become CEO of Red Zone LLC, a private investment company focused on a range of entertainment properties, founded by Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder.

Shapiro started in 1993 as a production assistant for ESPN2’s Talk2. He served as coordinating producer for ESPN’s Peabody Award-winning SportsCentury from 1997-99. Then, as general manager, he led ESPN Classic through an expansive growth period. In 2001, he became senior vice president and general manager of programming for all of ESPN, before rising to his current position in 2002.

ESPN and ABC Sports president and Disney Media Networks co-chairman George Bodenheimer said the network has not determined a course of action to replace Shapiro.

“Obviously, we have to fill his role, but if you look back on ESPN over the last 25 years, we’ve organized ourselves differently over that time,” he said. “It’s premature to say what we’re going to do, but we have an extremely deep bench at ESPN. I am confident that our company will be well-served going forward.”

Shapiro is credited with launching ESPN Original Entertainment division, which created several original scripted series, such as Playmakers and Tilt, as well as such movies as 3 and The Junction Boys. In a recent interview with Multichannel News, Shapiro said he wanted to devote 10% of ESPN’s lineup to EOE programming, something ESPN will continue to strive for in his absence.

“EOE is going to continue to be a pillar of ESPN’s programming strategy for a long time,” Bodenheimer said. “We really cut our teeth on events and sports news, but when we added EOE programming, our fans embraced it.”

Bodenheimer also said he’s personally involved in cable rights negotiations with pro sports leagues, including ongoing talks with Major League Baseball, which Shapiro spearheaded.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.