ESPN 'Begs' Up Another Reality Season

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Encouraged by the response from new viewers and overall Nielsen Media Research returns from its foray into the reality game show fray, ESPN will order a second season of Beg, Borrow & Deal
and is hoping to pair it with a second genre entry next year.

In addition, ESPN executive vice president of programming and production Mark Shapiro is looking toward building signature programming for ESPN2, and plans to launch Drive Time
— a TV version of sports radio programming — on the network come February.

Through the first five of its eight installments, Beg, Borrow & Deal
averaged a 0.5 household rating and a 0.8 among its core male 18 to 34 audience.

The show pits a pair of four-person teams (two men and two women) vying to accomplish 10 athletic-related feats — like catching a pass from an NFL quarterback — while beating the other squad in a race from New York City to San Francisco's Alcatraz Island. The winning team gets tickets to two major sporting events.

Luring Casuals

Shapiro said the focus of Beg, like all of ESPN Original Entertainment projects, is to appeal to casual sports fans as a springboard to bring them to the network more often. "There has been some good feedback about this show. We're looking at a handful of reality ideas that marry wit, sports trivia, performance and athletics," he said.

Shapiro said that while the new reality game entry would serve as a companion to a second season of Beg, it had not been decided whether the new show would precede or follow its predecessor.

ESPN's current game plan calls for these shows to work with what would be the network's first stab at original scripted series fare during its Tuesday night "The Block" franchise.

"We're looking to include these shows in a 20-week run from June through November," he said, adding that the search for scripted fare continues, with ESPN Original Entertainment staffers having contacted writers, directors and producers inside and outside the Hollywood community.

In the meantime, Shapiro and staffers are also evaluating talent to find a pair to host Drive Time, a two-hour call-in show, modeled after a sports radio format, that is slated bow on ESPN2 in February.

"There's virtual distribution parity between ESPN and ESPN2 and the ratings are strong on ESPN2 for live events. Now, we want to find identifiable, consistent, signature programming to help brand ESPN2 when we're not in game coverage," said Shapiro.

He noted the show will play off the success of sports radio and such ESPN opinion fare as Pardon The Interruption, The Sports Reporters
and The Sports Reporters II. To that end, ESPN is also poised to bow Around the Horn, a discussion program hosted by Max Kellerman featuring opinions from sports columnists in different time zones, on Oct. 28 at 5 p.m., as a lead-in to PTI.

Drive Time, which will incorporate elements from ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine, may also include segments from Focus Group, a show currently airing Tuesdays at 7 p.m. in which a moderator leads several fans on a discussion about the pros and cons of topical sports issues. Shapiro said no hard decision has been made about Focus Group's future, but "its format may work better in a daily forum."

As for movies, Shapiro said the total-sports network will opt for quality over quantity, and plans to air two films annually. "Movies will always be supplemental to our live games, events and news programming. We're not like other services where films are a much more important programming and promotional component," Shapiro explained.

He noted that shooting recently wrapped on The Junction Boys, the story of the Texas A&M players who endured Coach Bear Bryant's infamous 1954 training camp. The film will follow ESPN's Dec. 14 Heisman Trophy presentation.

Elsewhere, Shapiro said ESPN Classic is committed to profiling about 40 contemporary athletes for its SportsCentury
series annually.

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