ESPN’s ‘Last Dance’ Available as Limited-Edition Blu-ray Nov. 10

Disney Media Networks and ESPN Films will release the award-winning documentary series The Last Dance as a Blu-ray Disc gift set Nov. 10.

Winner of the Emmy Award for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction series, the 10-part The Last Dance chronicles Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls’ efforts to win a sixth NBA championship during the 1997-98 season. The series originally aired on ESPN and is also available on Netflix.

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The Blu-ray gift set includes a 28-page gallery book with photos and episode recaps, a timeline poster, and more than four hours of additional material.

Extras include:

  • Exclusive never-before-seen The Last Dance bonus interviews;
  • “Game 6: The Movie”
  • A never -before-seen uncut version of Stuart Scott’s interview with Michael Jordan on “Sunday Conversation” from June 1998;
  • “In-the-Moment” archival material;
  • “SportsCenter” with Scott Van Pelt roundtables;
  • “The Jalen & Jacoby Aftershow” with Jason Hehir.

 

Air Jordan Doc Heading Home Aug. 25 from Shout! Studios

Shout! Studios has set an Aug. 25 home release date for One Man and His Shoes, a documentary directed Yemi Bamiro and produced by Will Thorne hat focuses on the social, cultural, and racial significance of Nike’s Air Jordan.

The documentary will be available on digital platforms for watch-at-home, including Apple TV, Amazon, Vudu, Google Play, FandangoNow and Hoopla.

One Man and His Shoes chronicles the rise of Air Jordan — named after basketball legend Michael Jordan — and shows how groundbreaking marketing strategies created a multi-billion-dollar business. The documentary, according to a press release, “delves into the darker side of success, a parable of America’s dark love affair with consumer capitalism and celebrity culture. Using a mix of archival footage and graphic animation, the feature documentary returns viewers to an era that feels distant, even nostalgic, yet was only a few decades ago.”

The documentary features interviews with Michael Jordan’s close friends and associates, including David Falk (former agent), David J. Stern (NBA Commissioner, 1984-2014) Sonny Vaccaro (the man who scouted him), Peter Moore (original designer), his biographer Roland Lazenby, the legendary sports journalist Jamele Hill, and sports writer Scoop Jackson.

ESPN Looking to Replicate ‘Last Dance’ Doc Success with ‘LANCE’ Armstrong

Without live sports to showcase, analyze and endlessly promote, ESPN has resorted to televising and streaming documentaries and classic games from the past. On the heels of its success (5.6 million viewers per episode) with the Michael Jordan-themed documentary ‘The Last Dance,” the Disney-owned sports network is hoping to come close with new “30 for 30” doc “LANCE,” as in disgraced Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong.

ESPN says the two-part series (May 24/31) showcases the story of the cyclist’s rise out of Texas as a young superstar cyclist; his harrowing battle with testicular cancer; his recovery and emergence as a global icon with his seven consecutive Tour de France titles; and then his massive fall after he was exposed in one of the largest doping scandals in history.

While all true, the series more importantly reveals just how angry Armstrong remains seven years after his spectacular fall from grace following admission of systemic use of performance enhancing drugs to Oprah Winfrey, the subsequent vacating of his record seven Tour titles by French officials, and loss of tens of millions of dollars in endorsement deals.

With filters removed per his and doc director Marina Zenovich’s request, Armstrong, 49, quips and disses on everyone from his mother’s parenting, stepfather’s discipline, antidoping officials who pursued him and disloyal former teammates — except himself.

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The Plano, Texas, native remains controversial largely due to his outsized ego and competitive drive to excel in a sport historically dominated by Europeans — and in the process sell lots of bikes, kits, books and yellow fighting-cancer Livestrong wrist bands to corporate America and weekend warriors who might otherwise have swung a golf club, tennis racket or gone jogging.

“Lance’s fans pay retail,” said one bike shop owner.

The Texan’s current podcasts — The MOVE (about bike racing) and The Forward Podcast — the latter showcasing eclectic subjects fielding questions from Armstrong — underscore his singular talent to engage people with charm and swagger.

A glimpse into Armstrong’s cunning is revealed early (age 16) when he bends the rules to enter his first triathlon: “Forge the certificate, compete illegally, and beat everybody,” he brags.

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Armstrong isn’t remorseful about cheating (“I wouldn’t change a thing,” he says), he’s angry he came out of retirement (for more glory) and got legally outmaneuvered by government investigators in the process. For years, Armstrong and his team of high-paid lawyers had threatened and harassed anyone who suggested his story wasn’t actually about beating testicular cancer and becoming an iconic champion through grit and hard work.

Ironically, a few years after the Winfrey mea culpa, Armstrong found himself being booed in an Austin, Texas, restaurant.

“Some people just can’t chill the fuck out,” he said. “They’re pissed still, and they’ll be pissed forever.”

‘The Last Dance’ Draws 23.8 Million International Household Viewers for Netflix

The Last Dance, the documentary series about basketball star Michael Jordan and the 1990s Chicago Bulls championship team, attracted 23.8 million households outside the United States on Netflix, the service announced May 20.

The miniseries, a co-production of Netflix and ESPN Films, aired on ESPN in the United States April 19 through May 17 with each episode being made available the day after airing to international audiences via the SVOD service.

“23 was always his lucky number! 23.8 million households outside the U.S. checked out The Last Dance in its first four weeks on Netflix,” the service tweeted.

Jordan’s jersey number was 23.

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The Day Netflix’s Fiscal Call Became Irrelevant — to Netflix

Michael Morris, an analyst with Guggenheim Securities, was in a no-win position. As the Wall Street expert on tap April 21 to question Netflix executives on strong quarterly results (more than double projected sub growth) favorably impacted by the coronavirus, Morris was met with what appeared to be a collective air of guilt and concern. It was not a time to gloat or high-five success.

Indeed, Netflix added nearly 16 million subscribers worldwide in the first three months of the year — about 7 million more than revised Wall Street estimates and 9 million more than what Netflix had expected.

At a time when many media companies are scrambling to find funds, and some movie theaters are facing bankruptcy, Netflix has seen its stock reach record highs — briefly valuing the company higher than The Walt Disney Co.

CEO Reed Hastings, CFO Spenser Neumann, CCO Ted Sarandos, chief product officer Greg Peters, and Spencer Wang, VP, finance & investor relations, seemed to be in no mood to discuss the robust quarter, pricing, sub growth or balance sheet at a time when an ongoing pandemic devastates many of its markets globally.

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“It’s an incredible tragedy for the world,” Hastings said about COVID-19. “Everyone is wrestling with the implications, both on health, on hunger, poverty. And we, too, are really unsure of what the future brings.”

“It’s been humbling to be a place that people around the world in a time like this turn to for some entertainment for escape,” Peters said.

Neumann said Netflix was fortunate to be running smoothly during industry-wide shutdowns and quarantined employees, while doing the “best we can” to keep employees and production crews safe, healthy and taken care of.

“That’s been our primary focus,” he said.

Hastings said he and the rest of the company remained as uncertain about the business future in a COVID-19 universe, adding that distributing entertainment through the Internet wasn’t slowing.

“People want entertainment,” he said. “They want to be able to escape and connect, whether times are difficult or joyous. Will Internet entertainment be more and more important over the next five years? Nothing has changed in that.”

When Morris attempted to ask a question about subscription pricing and how it might be implemented in a non-virus environment, Peters wasn’t biting.

“At this point, we’re not even thinking about price increases,” he said. “What’s going on around the world is dominating our thoughts and our considerations. So, we’re really just focused on that for this period.”

When Morris flipped from asking about a price hike to a price cut with so many people out of work or furloughed, Peters deferred to Neumann, who reiterated that it “really [wasn’t the] time for us to be thinking about price changes. We haven’t lived through anything like this. So it’s so hard to tell.”

Sarandos said Netflix was deep into production for its 2021 original content slate, underscoring the fact the service has no content shortages while production is shutdown.

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Indeed, Netflix’s original true crime documentary “Tiger King” has proven to be major hit, tracking 65 million subscriber households since its March 20 launch.

“We don’t anticipate moving the schedule around much and certainly not in 2020,” Sarandos said. When asked whether Netflix would incorporate “episode spacing” rather than making all episodes of an original series available at launch, Sarandos said release strategies are being tweaked all the time.

He said the “Love is Blind” dating show featured staggered episodes while the competition series “Too Hot to Handle” was released all at once.

“Customers have spoken loud and clear that they really like the option of the all-at-once model,” Sarandos said. “So, I don’t see us moving away from that meaningfully.”

The executive lauded Netflix’s partnership with Disney-owned ESPN on the just-launched Chicago Bulls/Michael Jordan NBA basketball documentary The Last Dance, which the two companies have worked together on for several years. Netflix and ESPN streamed and aired the first two of 10 episodes beginning April 19.

“It’s been a win-win for us and ESPN, and a great win for basketball fans who’ve been very hungry for new programming,” Sarandos said.

Hastings said Netflix has resumed production in Iceland and South Korea, using those situations to learn how best to implement production in other parts of the world as shelter-in-place restrictions are lifted.

“We’re taking some of those key learnings about how we run those productions today and applying that to our plans to re-start our productions around the world,” Hastings said.

In Search of Sports During a Pandemic

With the professional and collegiate playing fields shut down during the coronavirus pandemic, sports media on television and radio has scrambled to fill the vacuum in the absence of real news.

A plethora of virtual competitions have populated some sports featuring professionals in basketball, cycling  and auto racing, among others, competing online via avatars and/or third-party action figures.

Last weekend, NASCAR driver Kyle Larson unintentionally made the most of the content void by becoming the headline for all the wrong reasons. He was suspended by NASCAR and subsequently fired by his team for using the ‘N’-word during a virtual racing event. Larson, who is half Japanese and entered stockcar racing through a diversity program, was recorded using the slur during a live-streamed iRacing tournament on the Twitch game platform. He has apologized for his gaffe.

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In Clemson, S.C., radio banter about the future college football season  and possible impact COVID-19 could have on the former national champion Tigers’ season was derailed after severe thunderstorms moving through parts of the Southeast on April 12 left one dead and a path of destruction in nearby Seneca.

On ESPN, on-air talent was greeted April 13 with news of across-the-board 15% pay cuts as the Disney-owned pay-TV channel said the company would weather the pandemic as a team. It surely beat the furloughs handed out to more than 70,000 employees at Disney’s amusement parks.

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ESPN, which has spearheaded the pandemic content hole with re-broadcasts of classic sports match-ups, dug deep on Sunday with a seven-hour Scripps National Spelling Bee marathon telecast. The event featured the 1997, 2004 and 2008 championships, including each year’s winning words: Euonym (name well suited to the person, place, or thing named); Autochthonous (an indigenous inhabitant of a place); and Guerdon (a reward or recompense).

To the non-fan, last year’s championship featured an historic eight co-champions, including seven Indian-Americans. The 2020 competition, originally slated for May, will return in 2021.

ESPN on April 19 at 9 p.m. ET begins 10-part documentary, “The Last Dance,” featuring Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls’ dynasty through the lens of their final championship season in 1997-98.