[02/05/04 - 12:00 AM] Game Over for ESPN's 'Playmakers' By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)
CHICAGO (thefutoncritic.com) -- After months of rumors and speculation, ESPN made it official on Wednesday as the network announced "Playmakers" will not return for a second season.
"We have decided that 'Playmakers' will not resume production," Mark Shapiro, ESPN's executive VP of programming and production, said in a statement. "Many considerations went into to this decision, not the least of which was the reaction from a longtime and valued partner. We are proud of the show on many levels - it was a creative and critical success, and we are appreciative that viewers clearly embraced this new genre on our network... so much so that we are actively engaged in pursuing our next drama."
The news came as little surprise as ESPN has been hounded by the National Football League owners and officials of the NFL Players Assocation over the show's content. With such a negative reaction, ESPN executives apparently did not want to risk damaging their relationship with the NFL. The network is heading into the penultimate year of its contract with the NFL for its top-rated "Sunday Night Football" franchise, currently valued at $600 million a year.
"Playmakers" was nevertheless a major success for ESPN in terms of ratings. The series averaged a 1.9 household rating (1.65 million homes) for its 11-episode run, behind only said NFL games and its Saturday primetime college football coverage. ESPN officials said the network was approached by other cable channels to pick up the series, but opted not to in order avoid any further ire by the NFL. "['Playmakers'] is our series, and as a result it will not air elsewhere," ESPN's Josh Krulewitz told USA Today. Nevertheless, the network will continue with its plans to release the series on DVD come April (click here for details).
Despite the "Playmakers" experience, Shapiro said ESPN is still going forward with its scripted series development. He hopes to have one of the network's three projects currently in the hopper - Spike Lee's series version of "He Got Game," the college gambling drama "The Fix" and an untitled comedy from Tollin-Robbins Productions ("Ari$$") - on the air by the fall.
John Eisendrath and Orly Adelson were the executive producers of "Playmakers," an ESPN Original Entertainment production.