The Last Dance took years to make, decades if you consider when the behind-the-scenes footage was filmed, but the highly anticipated docuseries still started airing before it was finished.
Shortly after sports were shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic in the middle of March, sports fans quickly began to clamor for an early release of ESPN’s The Last Dance. The 10-episode docuseries featuring Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls was originally set for a June release, coinciding with the NBA Finals. Moving the release date up a couple months didn’t seem like an unreasonable request from fans, but ESPN said it wasn’t ready yet.
“I know some have asked about The Last Dance, and the reality is that the production of that film has not yet been completed, so we are limited there at the moment,” network EVP Burke Magnus told Variety in March. “Obviously, you can’t air it until it’s done.”
When Magnus said it wasn’t completed yet, most fans likely expected some last-minute editing was needed, but nothing significant enough to prevent it from an early release. ESPN recognized the need and value of bumping up the doc’s premiere date, but as it turns out, it wasn’t even close to being finished.
“The first three episodes were complete and seven of the 10 episodes were in various levels of post-production when all non-essential business in New York was shut down on March 16,” wrote L.A. Times sports columnist Arash Markazi.
According to Markazi’s story, The Last Dance director Jason Hehir was concerned about meeting the doc’s June deadline, let alone figuring out a way to complete an early release while needing to shelter in place.
On March 31, ESPN announced the new schedule for the Bulls docuseries, featuring a premiere date of April 19, airing two episodes every Sunday through May 17. Amazingly, only three episodes were ready to go, the ninth was completed May 1, with the finale scheduled to be finished May 10, just one week before its air date.
Thanks to Zoom meetings and uploading videos on Vimeo, Hehir and his team of five editors were able to finish the documentary from their separate New York apartments, giving sports fans something to look forward to and consume for five straight weeks.
Domonique Foxworth: Tom Brady Contract Is About Impressing NFL
“I think that’s why the booths look the way they look. It’s because the league wants their games to feel big, and it’s worth it to them.”
The shake-up of NFL TV broadcast booths has been one of the top storylines in the league this offseason.
Part of the reasoning is because of the massive sums of money involved. Whether it’s Joe Buck and Troy Aikman or Tom Brady, NFL broadcasters have been getting paid. And it doesn’t seem like the spending is going to slow down anytime soon.
Speaking to Bomani Jones on The Right Time, Domonique Foxworth said the NFL just wants to continue to get bigger and bigger even with its broadcast crews.
“These TV partners want to be in good with the league. And I think that’s what this Tom Brady contract comes down to,” Foxworth said. “I think that’s why the booths look the way they look. It’s because the league wants their games to feel big, and it’s worth it to them.”
Even with some feeling like Brady is uninteresting and likely won’t move the needle as an analyst, it’s the name recognition factor that will set the table for Brady in the booth.
“I do believe that if you turn on an NFL game, and Tom Brady’s talking about it, it feels bigger no matter what he’s saying,” Foxworth said.
Joe Buck, Troy Aikman Visit Bristol For First Time Since Signing With ESPN
“My anticipation for the start of this season is literally off the charts; I’ve never been this excited.”
Monday Night Football on ESPN is going to have a new sound this year with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman in the broadcast booth. The deal is reportedly worth a combined $165 million, and will officially begin on September 12 when the Denver Broncos visit the Seattle Seahawks at 8:15 p.m. EST on ESPN.
“I’m thrilled to officially welcome Joe and Troy to ESPN and Monday Night Football,” said ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro. “They are elite broadcasters who have been at the forefront of our industry for more than two decades [and] are universally respected, and fans truly appreciate their candor and expertise.”
Buck and Aikman visited ESPN headquarters in Bristol for the first time today. The broadcast duo, now entering their 21st season in the booth together, are switching networks for the first time, a move that was initiated because of Aikman’s expiring contract. Throughout the season, Aikman had an inclination that it would be his last at Fox; however, he would have stayed at the network. The original thought, according to Aikman, was that he would call Thursday Night Football on Amazon Prime while continuing his role in doubleheader games with Fox – but it was quickly realized that it would not be feasible.
“ESPN began conversations with me, and it was an opportunity that was just the best fit for me,” said Aikman. “I didn’t think that was going to happen until a little bit after the Super Bowl.”
Buck’s contract was not set to expire until the end of this season, but after watching his veteran partner change networks, the possibility existed that he too would depart.
“When I knew Troy was gone, I think there was a little bit more intensity in my talks with Fox about ‘Was I going to stay there?,’ or ‘Was I going to try to continue my relationship on-air with Troy?’,” Buck reflected.
After approximately a month of negotiations between Buck and Fox, the broadcaster was off to ESPN. While the negotiations moved quickly, Buck never felt like he was taken for granted by Fox after working there for 28 years.
“They tell you how much you’re worth to them every time a check arrives,” said Buck. “They prove all that stuff by letting you continue to do it, and the relationships that we had. It was very collegial and very friendship-driven, much more so than employer-employee at Fox, and I expect the same will continue here at ESPN.”
Much of the media landscape across the National Football League has been significantly altered going into next season. Whether it is Buck and Aikman going from Fox to ESPN; the new Fox booth of Kevin Burkhardt and, upon his retirement, Tom Brady; the addition of Thursday Night Football on Amazon Prime with Al Michaels and Kirk Herbstreit; and Mike Tirico being moved into the lead Sunday Night Football role with Cris Collinsworth, the game will adopt a new sound upon the season’s opening kickoff.
ESPN Head of Event and Studio Production Stephanie Druley commented that amid the new broadcast landscape, the network believes it now has the number one football broadcast booth in the country. Additionally, she revealed the addition of a second Monday Night Football booth to be announced in the coming weeks as part of the network’s new broadcast rights deal with the NFL. The secondary booth will be calling three games this year and five games next year, and an announcement with more details is forthcoming.
For Buck, being welcomed to ESPN was representative of a full-circle moment, as his father Jack called Monday Night Football on the CBS Radio Network with Hank Stram. While Buck idolized his father and strived to one day be like him, he was always attentive as to what was going on in one of the other booths in the stadium.
“I knew as a little kid something special was going on two doors down, and that was when Howard Cosell was there; Don Meredith was there; Frank Gifford was there – and it was, ‘Man, that is the peak of sports and media,’” said Buck. “My anticipation for the start of this season is literally off the charts; I’ve never been this excited.”
“This is an opportunity with ESPN that I’m really excited about,” added Aikman. “We’ve been doing it so long in one way [and] it feels like it’s 2001 again…. I have nothing but respect for the people I worked [for] at Fox, and appreciate the way I was treated for the 21 years I was there, but am excited for the next chapter.”
NFL Explains How World Cup Effected 2022 Schedule
“We didn’t strategically deploy any of our games to either go really strong or go a little less strong, because we knew there was going to be soccer that day.”
This will be the first year that the World Cup will be contested during the NFL season. It isn’t a challenge professional football is used to in America. That is why Mike North, the NFL’s vice president of broadcast scheduling, told Richard Deitsch that it was important to do some homework.
“Very early in the process we got with our broadcast partner at Fox and we knew that there weren’t going to be any windows where Fox was not going to be able to broadcast an NFL game,” he said.
The real effect had to do with the NFL’s international schedule. Five games will be played outside of the United States borders this season. North said he wanted to understand the potential schedule for the World Cup so he could create the best atmosphere for the international contests.
“I’m not sure we’re doing the right thing for the fan in Germany if we’re playing in Bayern Munich’s stadium while the German national team is playing a World Cup game; I’m not sure we are doing the right thing for our fans in Mexico if we were playing a game in Mexico on a day when the Mexican national team was playing. So we were certainly aware of the World Cup schedule and worked very closely with our friends at Fox to make sure we were aligned on how we were going to approach it.”
North said that he wasn’t worried about football beating fútbol. He just wanted to understand what he was putting his teams up against.
“We didn’t back out of any of our windows. We didn’t strategically deploy any of our games to either go really strong or go a little less strong, because we knew there was going to be soccer that day.”
FIFA moved the World Cup to the final two months of the year in 2022. To play the games any earlier would have meant players would have been dealing with extreme heat in Qatar.
The first match will be played on November 21. The final is scheduled for December 18. That overlaps with weeks 11 through 16 of the NFL season.