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ESPN Yet to Make 'Playmakers' Call

ESPN's beleaguered original series Playmakers scored a ratings touchdown with its Nov. 11 finale, but it remains to be seen if the show will hit the field for a second season.

Network executives said the final installment of the 11-episode series generated a 2.23 household rating, its highest performance since it debuted with a 2.4 mark. The skein overall finished with a respectable 1.88 household rating.

Despite its performance, the network has yet to renew the series. Many National Football League executives and players denounced the drama's portrayal of gridiron professionals as unrealistic and negative.

Given its commitments to live sports programming, ESPN Original Entertainment senior vice president Ron Semiao said, "we don't have to make decisions quick and we're in no hurry to do that."

He admitted the network would consider "external and internal" reaction to the show — including input from the league — before rendering its verdict.

"The NFL is a very, very important partner to [Disney] as we are an important partner to them. Nobody promotes the league nor attracts fans [more] than we do," he said.

Indeed, the network's NFL coverage has posted gains this season. Through 10 telecasts, ESPN's NFL Sunday Night Football games have an 8.0 rating, up 9% from last year. The network's NFL Prime Time
pre-game show has posted an 8% increase (a 3.8 rating), and its morning Sunday NFL Countdown show is up 16%, to a 2.3 average.

"I don't think viewers were given enough credit to distinguish between reality and fictional programming," he said. "It's not designed to be a realistic representation of the industry — it's used as a backdrop."

With Playmakers on hiatus, ESPN will develop a two-part special in early December surrounding the lives of former National Basketball Association bad boy Dennis Rodman. Semiao said the show would not take a salacious look at the flamboyant Rodman.

"We're looking at a human-interest story about a former professional athlete who is still trying to keep that life a part of him," Semiao said. "We're not looking for a freak show and if the material that we see on this documentary is of that nature, we won't air it."

The network is also looking at a pilot script from filmmaker Spike Lee that advances his 1998 movie He Got Game, as well as a potential series from producers Mike Tobin and Brian Robbins (Varsity Blues).

Meanwhile, EOE remains enthusiastic about the ESPN2 morning show Cold Pizza, despite anemic ratings in the 0.0 to 0.1 range during its first three weeks.

"These things take time to build," Semiao said. "From a ratings perspective, it's a long haul, but we're not disappointed in the show whatsoever. We find a lot of value in the show not only for us, but for our partners."

R. Thomas Umstead
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.