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Sports Taking Center Stage In Cable Shows

1/27/2012 3:11 PM

HBO will look to ride the sport of horse racing to its next breakthrough series with Sunday’s launch of Luck, starring Dustin Hoffman, Nick Nolte and Dennis Farina. The drama is the latest cable series to use sports as a major component of its storyline.

Sports have played well recently in the scripted series arena. USA Network’s football-themed drama Necessary Roughness garnered a Golden Globe nomination for series star Callie Thorne, who plays a no-nonsense psychologist for a fictional pro football franchise. FX’s rowdy fantasy football-based comedy The League has tackled enough viewers to score a fourth season on the network.

BET’s The Game still holds the record for cable’s most watched comedy series premiere and its currently performing well in its second season on the African-American targeted network. HBO’s baseball comedy Eastbound & Down will take the mound for its third season in February.

On the reality front, Fx is also hoping to pin down young, mixed martial arts fight fans when it debuts later this year a live version of the UFC’s Ultimate Fighter reality series, which formerly aired on Spike. The MMA category is also the underlying theme of a recently launched MTV reality series, Caged, which follows a group of friends growing up in a small Louisiana town who are looking to become elite fighters in caged or MMA fighting.

HBO is following the life of hall-of-fame boxing trainer Freddie Roach in its new series On Freddy Roach, while USA earlier this week said it will tap former Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner to host its new reality series The Moment, which gives people a second chance at a career dream they put on hold. The series will join the “characters welcome” network’s other sports/entertainment reality series WWE Tough Enough.

VH1 has used sports to score points with female viewers with its often cantankerous reality series Basketball Wives and Baseball Wives.

Given the strong cable ratings produced by live pro sports fare recently, it’s not surprising that networks are rolling the dice on sports-related content. While no scripted sports show can beat the excitement and thrill of watching a game-winning touchdown pass or a last second three-point shot, these shows are drawing both fanatic and causal sports fans by using sports as a backdrop to smart and compelling, character-driven storylines.

It’s unclear if Luck will become the next Sopranos for HBO, but it’s a good bet that its racetrack theme will draw its share of sports aficionados.

April