October 28, 2009

ESPN Unspools '30 For 30' Sports Doc Series

Talk about a movie marathon.

ESPN is rolling out the beginning of its ambitious "30 for 30" series--in which the network enlisted 30 filmmakers to make 30 docs about sports to celebrate, yep, 30 years of covering sports.

The series started this month with Kings Ransom (by Peter Berg) about Wayne Gretzky's career with the Los Angeles Kings and featured a film by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Barry Levinson about the Baltimore Colts' shocking move in 1984. A doc about Muhammad Ali by Albert and David Maysles premiered tonight. And there's still 26 to go! (If you missed some premieres, don't sweat it, they're repeating on ESPN's various nets for some time.)

The concept came from popular ESPN columnist Bill Simmons, who explains the beginning in one of his usually-entertaining way. "It started out as a one-paragraph e-mail in 2007. And only because I love documentaries.," he writes. "The goal of a well-written piece and a well-done documentary is fundamentally the same: you pick a story that hasn’t been fully explored yet, you throw yourself into it and you make it sing."

Real Screen checked in with ESPN Films exec director Connor Schell to see how it's going. Schell couldn't have been happier about the sucess so far. Seems even couch potatoes can get into the sports thing with these films. From the interview:

They were made for both [sport and documentary fans]. I think we program for sports fans and we try to tell sports stories in all sorts of ways and the documentary form is just another great way to reach them and tell compelling stories. If some of these films reach a different audience and bring them to our network, that's fantastic, but first and foremost we want to just tell great sport stories and let an audience enjoy them.

We couldn't agree more. And with docs about sport analyist Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder, to horse racing, to O.J. Simpson's infamous white Bronco car chase and more on tap, we'll be watching.