ESPN Enters The Theatrical Ring

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ESPN is throwing its cap into the theatrical film production ring with the development of several big screen and made-for-television movies over the next few years.

The network’s newly created ESPN Films unit will team with the Creative Artists Agency to explore new creative and commercial opportunities in film, according to ESPN senior vice president of content development and enterprises Keith Clinkscales.

“Collaborating with CAA for this aspect of ESPN Films’ rollout demonstrates our commitment to being the leader in identifying, developing and producing the highest quality sports-themed stories out there,” said Clinkscales in a statement.

It’s unclear how many movie titles ESPN Films plans to develop for both theatrical release and ESPN cable network distribution, but the Bristol sports behemoth is hiring 30 filmmakers to produce one-hour mini-movies to appear on the channel starting in September 2009, in celebration of its 30th anniversary. The initiative, 30/30, will give the filmmakers an opportunity to each tell a sports-themed story.

While the sports network is officially establishing a new film division, it’s played on the original movie court before. In fact the, ESPN has developed seven scripted movies for distribution on its cable network since 2002. Next week (March 16-17), the network will premiere a documentary movie Black Magic, about the role college and pro basketball played in the civil rights movement

Other previously announced titles to be aired include The Zen ofBobby V about baseball manager Bobby Valentine; Hellfighters, about an against-all-odds Harlem high school football team; Bud Greenspan: At the Heart of the Games and The Streak, which chronicles the 2007-08 season of the Brandon High School wrestlers and their 34-year winning streak.

Although movie production appears to be on the fast track, it’s unclear whether ESPN will return to the original series game. The network’s two shows – the pro football-themed Playmakers and the poker-oriented Tilt – were not renewed after their freshman season runs.

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