“Trio of lawyers producing documentary on 1985 Bears team”
By Jack Silverstein
Law Bulletin staff writer
On Jan. 27, 1986, the day after the Chicago Bears demolished the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX, an estimated 500,000 people showed up for the victory parade on LaSalle Street, followed by a rally at Daley Plaza.
Here’s who wasn’t there:
Walter Payton, Jim McMahon, Jay Hilgenberg, Jimbo Covert, Richard Dent, Dan Hampton, Mike Singletary, Otis Wilson and Dave Duerson.
That’s because players selected for the following week’s Pro Bowl — like those nine — were required to report to Hawaii the day after the Super Bowl.
“When you win the Super Bowl, the very next day … the players go to the Pro Bowl,” said Wilson, one of the team’s three starting linebackers. “A lot of guys really didn’t share in that (celebratory) experience.”
Because of that, Wilson said, despite 29 years of accolades, headlines, books, commercials, reunions, interviews and general mythologizing, “There really hasn’t been anything done on a high level to celebrate this team — I mean, citywide. It’s overdue.”
A trio of Chicago lawyers feel the same way.
Richard W. Lenkov, Scott G. Prestin and Joseph G. Klest are joining Wilson to produce “’85: The Story of the Greatest Team in Pro Football History,” a film they are billing as the first feature-length documentary about the iconic team.
They plan to release it this fall to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the 1985 season.
“The window of opportunity is closing,” Wilson said. “After 30, many people won’t care about doing anything. That’s why I wanted to do something with the guys, with the organization … so that we can have a good time. Get together and be recognized and have a piece that you can show your grandkids.”
Lead producer Lenkov, of Bryce, Downey & Lenkov LLC — who practices general liability litigation, workers’ compensation and entertainment law — and director Prestin, a sole practitioner who recently relocated to Los Angeles, didn’t personally know any Bears when they started.
Instead, they got the ball rolling simply by deciding that they could provide what the market lacked.
“It did take some nerve,” Lenkov said. “Being an attorney who works with a lot of different clients and litigates every day, I’m not afraid of trying and sometimes failing.”
After deciding to produce the documentary, the group’s first bit of luck came when Lenkov — a sports memorabilia collector — attended a collectible show at the Rosemont Convention Center with his son early last year.
By coincidence, the show featured collectibles from the 1985 Bears with several players in attendance.
“I went there with my son and literally went up to as many players as I could and told them ‘I’m producing a film about the team,’” he said. “And off we went.”
His research as well as conversations with players led him to ask Wilson to join the project as a partner.
“He was still really active in promoting the team,” Lenkov said. “It seemed like he was still in touch with a lot of the players. When we were talking about who to partner up with, to a man, everyone thought Otis.”
Wilson needed no convincing. He joined Lenkov and Prestin as one of the film’s producers along with Klest of Klest Injury Law Firm and film producer Tom Pellegrini, whose credits include the 2011 documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.”
Prestin has 15 years of production experience and is working on a documentary about the trial of serial killer John Wayne Gacy, which he is co-producing with Klest.
Prestin also has the fandom credentials, having grown up cheering for the Bears in Libertyville, where he watched them beat New England, 46-10, in Super Bowl XX.
“I remember watching the game with my friends, and then we went outside at halftime and played football in the snow,” Prestin said.
Lenkov has a different story. He grew up in Montreal rooting for the Canadiens, Expos and, originally, the Houston Oilers because of running back Earl Campbell.
“Being a huge sports fan, but not someone who grew up here, I don’t have Chicago sports in my DNA,” Lenkov said. “But the Chicago Bears were the one team I adopted.”
That happened because the team appeared regularly on Canadian TV. Lenkov and his father became fans together.
“That was something we shared,” Lenkov said. “That game was as huge in Canada as it was anywhere.”
So how did a Canadian, Earl Campbell-rooting attorney convince the self-proclaimed “Mama’s Boy Otis” to lead the first feature-length documentary of arguably the greatest NFL team of all-time?
“God’s honest truth?” Wilson said. “Ain’t nobody been doing nothing.”
There has, of course, been plenty of attention shined on that team over the past three decades.
In 2012, NFL Films produced a 66-minute season recap with interviews from players and coach Mike Ditka. In 2013, author Rich Cohen published “Monsters: The 1985 Chicago Bears and the Wild Heart of Football,” a biographical account of the season. That same year, Grantland.com published an oral history of “The Super Bowl Shuffle.”
There have also been countless stories about players from that team — including NFL Network’s “A Football Life” documentary about Payton — each of which touches on the season from a single perspective.
But has the team been adequately celebrated?
“In certain ways, I’d say yes, because they are legendary,” said Chicago Sun-Times columnist Rick Telander, who was interviewed for the film. “On the other hand, for as extraordinary a bit of Chicago history it actually encompasses, maybe you can’t celebrate it enough.”
Along with Wilson, the filmmakers have interviewed Dan Hampton and Steve McMichael with “seven or eight” other members of the team in the works, Lenkov said, including Ditka, McMahon, Dent, Gary Fencik, Willie Gault and Keith Van Horne.
The group is also talking to opposing players and coaches from the 1985 season.
Joe Theismann — former quarterback of the Washington Redskins, who the Bears beat 45-10 in 1985 — is committed, Lenkov said. The filmmakers are in talks with Lawrence Taylor — whose New York Giants lost to the Bears in the playoffs, 21-0 — and with Dan Marino and coach Don Shula of the Miami Dolphins, the only team to beat the Bears that season.
Along with Telander, other interviews already done feature Jesse Jackson, Michael Wilbon and Bill Kurtis.
“When you make a film, it’s a huge undertaking, far more complex than anybody realizes,” Telander said. “Setting up the interviews, the cameras, the sound, the lights, the writing and then (getting) the rights might be the hardest part of all. Who better than a lawyer?”
In talks to narrate the film is Chicagoan Jim Belushi.
“He was on the sideline the whole time,” Wilson said. “It’d be perfect to have him a part of it.”
As the 1985 season rolled on and the wins piled up, Wilson knew he was part of something special. He recalls celebrating on Rush Street with teammates following the win over the Giants that sent the Bears to the NFC championship game.
“That was the greatest experience, seeing the fans going berserk,” he said. “We just partied with them. And after we had enough, police escorted us out of there, and we went to the next spot.”
Lenkov knew the team had reach — it found him in Canada. Wilson knew when it found him in New York after the Super Bowl during an endorsement trip. Dent traveled there with him, and the two called the aforementioned Taylor — the Hall of Fame linebacker — to hang out on Park Avenue.
“A kid was walking with his parents and said, ‘Ma, that’s one of the guys that was in the Super Bowl Shuffle!’” Wilson said.
“Didn’t even say ‘That was two guys who won the Super Bowl.’ ‘That’s the guy who was in the Super Bowl Shuffle!’ … We captured everybody.”
Wilson and the filmmakers are hyping the documentary as the “definitive, story,” with a focus exclusively on events from the 1985 season.
The film will not explore stories about painkiller abuse or the physical toll the game took on players such as Dent, McMahon, William Perry and the late Duerson, who fatally shot himself in the chest in 2011 and left a note in which he requested his brain be studied due to concerns about concussions he suffered.
“Those are all really interesting issues and ones that are relevant now,” Lenkov said. “But honestly, our focus is not on that. It’s on that year.”
The filmmakers are planning a theatrical screening in the fall and are exploring streaming options with Netflix, Amazon and HBO. Lenkov, Prestin and Klest are open to others getting involved; those interested can e-mail Lenkov at email@example.com.
“I’m just excited that the story’s going to be told,” Wilson said. “It’s a fun story. Of course everybody knows what happened and how it unfolded, but the behind-the-scenes things — the stories the guys can tell that wasn’t told — that should add to it.”
As we come up on the 30th anniversary of the Bears winning the Super Bowl in 1985, Chicago lawyer Rich Lenkov of Bryce Downey & Lenkov is producing a new documentary about that special time in Windy City sports history. Former Bear and ’85 team member Otis Wilson is a co-producer, and the film will be narrated by Jim Belushi.
The film is expected to be released next summer, just prior to the beginning of the 2015 NFL season. Among those featured in the documentary will be ’85 team members Jim McMahon, Mike Singletary and Richard Dent.
Also interviewed for the film will be Mayor Rahm Emanuel and actors Jeremy Piven and John Cusack — both Chicago area natives and big Bears fans.
“New Documentary Tells Story of ’85 Super Bowl Champion Chicago Bears”
Filming is currently underway for a new feature-length documentary on the 1985 Super Bowl-Champion
Chicago Bears. "'85: The Story Of The Greatest Team In Pro Football History" is slated for release
this fall, coinciding with the 30th anniversary of this iconic team's lone Super Bowl winning season.
A Chicago production team has assembled a unique cast to tell the story of the 1985 Chicago Bears. '85
Bears linebacker Otis Wilson is a co-producer of the film.
Pro football Hall of Famer and '85 Bear Dan Hampton and Bears legend Steve "Mongo" McMichael have already
been involved in the filming of the documentary with more Hall of Famers from the team slotted as well, including
Mike Singletary, Richard Dent and Coach Mike Ditka. Several other notable players, including Kevin Butler and
Willie Gault are scheduled to participate as well as a host of celebrities, including the Reverend Jesse Jackson,
ESPN's Michael Wilborn and Chicago Sun-Times sportswriter Rick Telander.
"Our film is the first in-depth telling of all that happened on and off the field during this championship season,"
said Chicago attorney Rich Lenkov, producer and longtime Chicago Bears fan. "This storied team comes to life
through the voices of its players, coaches, superfans and prominent Chicagoans."
The documentary was recently highlighted in The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
See link here:
The production team includes:
Scott Prestin (Director/Producer) is a director, producer and attorney with more than 15 years of film production
experience. His most recent work is the official documentary of the best-selling book "John Wayne Gacy:
Defending a Monster".
Rich Lenkov (Producer) is a member of the law firm of Bryce Downey & Lenkov. He has been involved in
theatrical productions including "Rock of Ages" and "The Rascals: Once Upon a Dream".
Tom Pellegrini (Executive Producer) is the producer of "Jiro Dreams of Sushi", "Hesher" (Joseph Gordon-Levitt
and Natalie Portman) and "Sympathy For Delicious" (Mark Ruffalo, Orlando Bloom, Laura Linney).
Otis Wilson (Executive Producer) is a legendary linebacker and key member of the dominant 4-6 defense from the
Super Bowl XX-winning '85 Chicago Bears. Otis was a soloist on the "Super Bowl Shuffle" video, still the only hit
single by a professional sports team. Otis currently runs the Otis Wilson Charitable Association.
Joseph Klest (Associate Producer) is a personal injury attorney representing clients throughout Illinois and across the nation. Joe is recognized as a "go-to" resource on civil sex abuse and injury cases, and is considered a pioneer
in representing abuse victims having co-authored the 2003 Illinois Child Protection Act.
Marc Menet (Cinematographer) is a heralded Chicago-based freelance-cinematographer and a member of the
International Cinematographers Guild. His work has appeared on Showtime, National Geographic, History
Channel, Weather Channel, Animal Planet, VH1, NBC, Fox, Fox Sports, PBS and others including the 2009
Chicago Cubs documentary, "We Believe". Marc currently also teaches production and cinematography at DePaul
The '85 Bears are one of the most colorful and talented football teams of all-time. In their Super Bowl-winning
year, they had the first-ranked defense, shut out both of their conference playoff opponents and in their Super
Bowl XX victory in New Orleans, they set records for both total points scored and margin of victory - records that
still stand. In 2011, President Obama called the '85 Bears "the greatest team in NFL history."
For more information contact:
'85 Documentary, LLC
A documentary about the Super Bowl champs is currently in the works. Called "'85: The Story of the Greatest Team in Pro Football History," it is produced by linebacker Otis Wilson and Chicago attorney Rich Lenkov, and will feature players such as Dan Hampton and Steve "Mongo" McMichael, as well as the coach himself Mike Ditka. Scott Prestin directs. Go to 85Bearsdoc.com.
Did you think we were done celebrating the ’85 Bears?
The 30th anniversary of that memorable season which culminated with a Super Bowl victory is this year. And the
way Chicago lawyer Rich Lenkov sees it, that might be the last timely opportunity to recognize the squad. That’s
why he decided to get to work on the documentary, “’85: The Untold Story Of The Greatest Team in Pro Football
“It seems like that story has been told, but we looked and nobody had actually done a feature length documentary
on this team,” Lenkov said. “We thought, ‘Man, that’s strange. We’ve got to do one.’”
In order to get members of the 1985 Bears to participate, Lenkov brought in Otis Wilson, a linebacker on that
team, as a producer.
“He was one of the fist moves,“ Lenkov said. “We knew we had to get the players to believe in the project. I did my
research and discovered Otis was still active and keeping the word out about the team. His teammates knew it was
a positive project once Otis vouched for it.”
Wilson said his role so far has been to coordinate interviews. He hopes to set up interviews with 15-20 former
teammates and coaches when all is said and done.
“You don’t know the individual stories,” Wilson said. “Everybody has their own unique story on how that season
touched them. I listened to (Keith) Van Horne and he said something even I didn’t remember and then stuff came
back to me. (This documentary) is celebrating what was a good time for the city, because at 40 or 50, they won’t
remember you the same way. A lot of us probably won’t be alive then. The bottom line is Chicago really
Wilson said every player and coach from the ’85 Bears they’ve approached agreed to participate, including former
Mike Ditka, Jim McMahon and Mike Singletary. The film also spoke with ESPN personality Michael Wilbon and
Rev. Jesse Jackson and is hoping to interview opponents from that year such as Miami Dolphins’ legend Dan
Marino and New York Giants’ legend Lawrence Taylor. Lenkov said actor Jim Belushi will serve as the narrator.
The film is directed by Scott Prestin (“John Wayne Gacy: Defending a Monster”) and executive produced by Tom
Pellegrini (“Jiro Dreams of Sushi”). It is scheduled to be released in the Fall to coincide with the start of the
football season. A decision has yet to be made on how the film will be released, but Lenkov is considering
distribution platforms such as Netflix, Hulu and Google Play and said the NFL Network has also shown interest.
The ’85 Bears were invited to the White House to meet with President Obama in 2011. They were the subject of the
2013 book ”Monsters: The 1985 Chicago Bears and the Wild Heart of Football,” by Rich Cohen.
“You think you’ve heard everything until you sit down with the guys,” Lenkov said. “Rest assured the film will tell
our audience things they haven’t heard.”
‘The Jinx’ Ushers in Golden Age for Documentaries, Fueled By Netflix Push
The arrest of Robert Durst on a murder charge this month was cause for
celebration in documentary filmmaking circles.
HBO (http://variety.com/t/hbo/)’s successful sixpart series “The Jinx
(http://variety.com/t/thejinx/),” an investigative look at murder suspect and
real estate heir Robert Durst, adds fuel to a whitehot market for deepdive
investigative documentary fare.
In recent months, nonfiction works such as “Going Clear,” a critical look at
Scientology; “The Hunting Ground (http://variety.com/t/thehuntingground/),”
a broadside against sexual violence on college campuses; and
“Serial,” a hit podcast about a reallife murder, have sparked intense debate
and mobilized committed followers, while whistleblower tale “Citizenfour”
took the doc Oscar.
A confluence of trends is driving the nonfiction boom. Nobody goes into the
business to get rich, but opportunities are expanding, particularly for films
that have something profound to say about a social issue or have a big
reveal in a truecrime story. And the amplifier effect of social media has
helped enhance docs’ realworld impact.
“This decade has been a golden age of nonfiction filmmaking,” said Joe
Berlinger, director of the “Paradise Lost” trio of films about the West
Key to the docu spike has been Netflix (http://variety.com/t/netflix/)’s
decision to enter the arena in a big way — and with a fat checkbook. The
netcaster has been making the festival rounds for acquisitions, and helping
to seed projects early on with filmmakers.
The prices that Netflix is paying to underwrite production or to license
material — ranging anywhere from highsix to lowseven figures — has had
a ripple effect on other buyers. Showtime, CNN, A&E Network, OWN, IFC,
SundanceTV and others have entered the space.
“All of those platforms are out there hunting, and it’s driving the
documentary business, and definitely raising the market value of films,” said
CNN Films chief Vinnie Malhotra.
Dealmaking ranges from outright acquisitions to licensing pacts that allow
creators to retain the underlying copyright, which means the content can
eventually be licensed to other buyers for a fresh round of fees.
“There are a lot of places to turn to when you have an idea that you’re
excited about pursuing,” said veteran producer (http://variety411.com/us/losangeles/producers/)
R.J. Cutler, whose recent doc works include 2009’s
“The September Issue,” 2012’s “The World According to Dick Cheney,” for
Showtime, and Showtime’s upcoming “Listen to Me Marlon” study of the
famed actor using his private audio recordings.
Cutler notes that the reality TV boom has also expanded the appetite of a
wide range of outlets for unscripted programming.
“Since the beginning of what has become known as the reality television
era, you’ve had a simultaneous growth in nonfiction drama series, the kind
of thing we started with (the 1999 Fox docu series) ‘American High.’ It’s a
healthy market if you know how to work it,” Cutler said.
Along with the influx of TV money, support from nonprofits is on the rise, as
organizations see the kind of impact that a wellmade doc can have on
social issues and specific causes. The Ford Foundation and MacArthur
Foundation are among the wellheeled benefactors that have increased
their grant money, according to Marjan Safinia, president of the Intl.
Documentary Assn., a membership org for filmmakers and doc enthusiasts.
Private corporations are also underwriting documentaries that they see as a
fit with their public image, Safinia noted. Patagonia, the outdoor apparel
firm, sponsored “DamNation,” a look at the environmental damage caused
by aging dams. Softdrink maker Mountain Dew helped fund the
skateboarding doc “We Are Blood,” which debuts this summer.
At the other end of the spectrum, crowdfunding campaigns have evolved in
the past few years to become viable sources of coin for projects with
And then there’s the expansion of the documentary form itself — from
classic but confining videoverite studies to a range that incorporates all
manner of POVs and presentations.
“The documentary film has really evolved as a format,” Safinia said. “It’s
moved away from being the broccoli of films to using storytelling styles that
are really engaging.”
Netflix also has made an impact in the way that the service’s
recommendation engines suggest titles to its 50 millionplus global
audience. Endorsed documentaries are woven into the same streams as
those of narrative features and TV shows, pushing them out of the niche
But theatrical play is no longer the holy grail of the documentary world.
Releases of a film in more than a few theaters are rare, and only a few docs
ever crack $1 million in receipts. Berlinger notes that his recent film
“Whitey,” a look at Boston gangster Whitey Bulger, flatlined at the box office,
even though it was a VOD hit.
“You have to realign your expectations of what constitutes success,” said
Berlinger. “Expecting big revenues from theatrical documentaries is an old
Digital revenues and rights deals with streaming services are helping to fill
the void. RadiusTWC copresident Tom Quinn, whose company won backtoback
best doc Oscars for “20 Feet From Stardom” and “Citizenfour,” said
he’s seen a 60% increase in the ancillary revenue docs generate from a
combination of VOD, electronic sellthrough, streaming and broadcast
“There are now multiple places to go and watch documentaries, and that
has built a large and significant nonfiction audience,” he said.
Yet democratization of the form, thanks to cheap digital cameras, has
spawned a generation of wannabes. “To stand out, you have to be about
something relevant and urgent,” said Brad Barber, codirector of the SXSW
breakout documentary “Peace Officer.”
Though filmmakers such as Berlinger report that they’re busier than ever,
most supplement their incomes from other sources. Barber and “Peace
Officer” codirector Scott Christopherson teach film studies, while several
top directors make commercials and branded films.
Ultimately, though, as the swell of interest in the Durst saga showed last
week, documentaries are clearly making a strong case with viewers.
“Documentaries Are the Go-To Players of Sports Television”
You have probably seen many of the films. There was “The Fab Five,” about
the rise and fall of a fabled Michigan basketball recruiting class, and “The U,”
which told the story of Miami football so well that its director made a sequel.
More recently, “Of Miracles and Men” described the 1980 Olympic hockey
tournament from the less familiar Soviet team’s point of view, and Dukeloathing
basketball fans were treated to the analytic probing of “I Hate
All those stories, and many more, have been injected into the bloodstream
of sports fans since 2009 through ESPN’s “30 for 30” series and its various
offshoots like “30 for 30 Shorts,” which are shown online at Grantland.com
and SEC Storied. The success of “30 for 30” has, in only a few years, created a
growing industry on television for sports documentaries. Their proliferation
and profitability, even as a formerly dominant player in the market has
markedly retreated from the field, has quickly brought a niche market into the
“I can do basically a film a year and have millions of people see it without
having to fight and claw for distribution and funding the way we used to,” said
the director Jonathan Hock, whose ESPN credits include “Of Miracles and
Men” and “Survive and Advance,” about the North Carolina State team,
coached by Jim Valvano, that won the 1983 N.C.A.A. men’s basketball title.
Hock added, “This is a golden age for sports documentaries.”
Sports documentaries have been around for decades, but they were more
often special events, like Bud Greenspan’s Olympic films, or occasional
television or theatrical presentations. When ESPN introduced “30 for 30” in
2009 — 30 films to celebrate the network’s 30th anniversary — it was a
thunderclap in the industry.
Quickly, ESPN became the dominant force, and since then, the ambitions
of ESPN and HBO, which once dominated the genre by producing four films a
year, have shifted drastically. ESPN committed heavily to documentaries,
releasing 142 films since 2009 — so many, in fact, that it now qualifies as a de
facto documentary studio.
HBO Sports, meanwhile, shuttered its in-house documentary unit in
November 2011 and struggles to maintain its relevance in a transformed
market in which many networks, including Showtime, Epix, CBS and Fox
Sports 1, are active at various levels. The NBC Sports Group is close to
announcing the formation of an internal unit to produce four documentaries a
year starting in 2016.
George Roy, whose HBO documentaries were among its most honored,
said: “ESPN has created a brand that is more powerful than HBO’s.”
ESPN and other media companies have quickly learned that sports
documentaries offer a reliable audience and a viable business model: They are
a bargain to produce — ESPN’s cost about $500,000 each — when compared
with the soaring prices of live sports rights, and they can be repeated for years.
In its 2011 debut, “The Fab Five” attracted 2.7 million viewers; a replay
three years later was watched by 476,000.
“I Hate Christian Laettner,” the newest “30 for 30,” is an example of how
a provocative title about a provocative subject can generate success. Released
on the eve of this year’s N.C.A.A. tournament, the film was directed by Rory
Karpf, whose goal was to explain Duke haters’ special loathing for Laettner,
one of the stars of the Blue Devils’ 1991 and 1992 championship teams.
The film examines Laettner’s arrogance, good looks, bullying style and
seeming sense of privilege — often humorously — and it was done with his full cooperation, if not his full embrace of its title. At a screening this month in
Manhattan, Laettner watched it with a smile that did not seem forced. He
occasionally leaned forward — apparently entranced — and regularly glanced
to his right at his former teammate Grant Hill to see if Hill was equally
amused. When the film made its premiere on ESPN on March 15, it attracted
2.3 million viewers. Another 573,000 watched when it was replayed later that
night on ESPN2.
Done well, documentaries can be the sort of programming that fits the
landscape of changing viewing habits, in which fans watch what they want,
when they want, untethered to the television schedule for live events. The “30
for 30” films, for example, are available on iTunes and Netflix and can be
watched on WatchESPN and bought in DVD sets.
“Long-form storytelling is growing,” said Connor Schell, vice president
and executive producer of ESPN Films. “You can tell people in-depth stories,
and they can consume it when they want. Sit people down and tell them a good
Showtime and Epix have recognized the same thing.
“Kobe Bryant’s Muse,” a vanity project on Showtime, stars Bryant, who
was also the executive producer and is the only person interviewed. Epix has
shown documentaries on Dwight Howard, the integration of the N.F.L. and
college sports, and it carries the series “Road to the N.H.L. Winter Classic,”
which was created by HBO.
“Our mission is different from ESPN’s,” said Stephen Espinoza, the
executive vice president of Showtime Sports. “We want to appeal to the sports
fan and the non-sports fan.”
Every network is benefiting from the talent diaspora spread far and wide
by HBO. Ross Greenburg, a former president of HBO Sports, has worked for
both Showtime and Epix. Joe Lavine made “Playing for the Mob,” about the
Boston College point-shaving scandal, for ESPN, and Jason Hehir directed
“The Fab Five” and is in postproduction for another about the Sacramento
Kings’ near-departure for Seattle. “I used to watch Joe Lavine’s documentaries
in school,” said Hehir, who added that he had more freedom to make the films he wanted at ESPN than he did when he was with HBO.
For Greenburg, his latest project is a collaboration with Steve Stern and
Roy, whose HBO work earned them eight Sports Emmys. “Dean Smith,” about
the late North Carolina basketball coach, will debut Wednesday on Showtime.
“Networks realize there’s thirst for this kind of entertainment,” Greenburg
said. “They also realize the younger demographics eat this up, not just the 50-
somethings who’ve lived a life in sports.”
Ken Hershman, the president of HBO Sports, said the company had not
abandoned sports documentaries but wanted to create a “different space” for
experimentation, rather than have a largely in-house group of filmmakers, like
the one that won 31 Sports Emmys for HBO from 1991 to 2012. Those films,
“were nice stories and nice projects,” he said, adding, “But we wanted to break
To fill the gap, he has been relying on Peter Berg for an issue-oriented
series called “State of Play” — hybrid documentaries and panel discussions and
the acquisition of films with production or talent connections to personalities
like Jay Z, 50 Cent and the agent Ari Emanuel.
In discarding a successful documentary-making model for one that seeks
deals with well-connected outsiders, HBO is trying, in its own way, to imitate
ESPN. But ESPN has clearly found a productive formula in hiring an eclectic
group of independent, well-credentialed directors like Barry Levinson and
Alex Gibney, and first-timers like the rapper Ice Cube and Marquis Daisy, a
former HBO staff member who made a documentary about Randy Moss.
Before she made “Selma,” Ava DuVernay directed “Venus VS.” as part of an
ESPN Title IX series in 2013.
And this month, six short films by Errol Morris, who won an Oscar for
“The Fog of War,” debuted online and on ESPN. Morris worked for ESPN on
an advertising campaign called “It’s Not Crazy, It’s Sports” a few years ago,
and he used that title for his short films, each focused on different types of fan
“Sports is just a way in, a portal, to tell a whole range of stories,” Morris
said. “You can call them obsessives or stories about obsessiveness. But sports is a perfect breeding ground for them.