Earlier this week a fellow columnist wrote about the dangers of ESPN's dominance over the sports media industry. I completely agree with his point in that context. But from a different angle, ESPN's presence in a huge media conglomerate can also create benefits across different platforms. In this case, it's access to entertainment.
Some of you might be disappointed in me for continuing to feed this beast of sports information. But after watching Tuesday night's premiere of ESPN's new series ""30 for 30,"" I felt compelled to share my excitement about the great potential this show has, not just for sports fans, but for a much wider audience.
ESPN launched this series of documentaries to commemorate its 30th anniversary, putting together stories from the past 30 years that had not been fully explored. I must admit that anytime ESPN launches anything too far outside of the traditional sports spectrum, it's reasonable not to expect anything groundbreaking.
One of my exceptions to this rule was the ESPN original TV series ""Playmakers,"" which depicted the chaotic lives of several fictional pro football players and never shied away from serious issues. For me, the chaotic lives of athletes are part of what makes following sports such an intriguing activity. But fictional representations also create restrictions, as the NFL convinced ESPN to cancel the show after one season for portraying the league's players in a negative light.
Documentaries have the luxury of not facing those problems. Tuesday night's opening film ""Kings Ransom"" was about one of the most famous trades in sports history. In 1988, the Edmonton Oilers sent hometown hero Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings, completely restructuring the landscape of the NHL at the time. I'll be honest when I say I have very little interest in hockey compared to the other three major sports, but the importance of this event sparked my interest.
I'm glad I gave it a shot, because it was an exciting start to a very promising and entertaining series. The beauty of this program lies in the specificity of the events being covered. Gretzky's trade took place over a small window of time, but its impact on the parties involved in Edmonton and Los Angeles demonstrates the importance of this event.
But I think ESPN's decision to go for highly acclaimed directors for each project will really put this series over the top. Peter Berg directed ""Kings Ransom"" and is also the director of the 2004 film ""Friday Night Lights."" From the opening scene, the quality of production catches your eye right away. ""Kings Ransom"" was a pleasure to watch because of its aesthetics through shot selection, sound choice, interview style and unique archived footage.
The Hollywood director element is a brilliant concept because it provides the documentaries with instant credibility. It merges fans of sports and cinema while serving as an absolute paradise for fans of both. It's also a great gig for the directors. ""30 for 30"" showcases their work and explains each director's personal connection to their documentary.
It appears to me that now more than ever, sports fans focus far too much on the afterthoughts, the winners and stats after each game. There's so much more to it than that; the emotions of athletes can relate to a specific individual, captivate an entire city or country.
That's part of my motivation for following not just my favorite teams closely but entire leagues year-round. You just never know when you might witness an important piece of history. ""30 for 30"" captures the essence of that ideal.
What do you think of ""30 for 30""? E-mail Matt at firstname.lastname@example.org.