Going To Extremes Espn Takes Programming Gamble With Generation X Olympics
There will be no escape. ESPN will begin eight days and 45 hours of “Extreme Games” programming today, and it’s risky business for the competitors and the cable channel.
The folks who 13 years ago had the last laugh with coverage of the America’s Cup are trying it again, perhaps pushing their luck. Among the events disguised as sports will be bungee jumping, sky diving, wall climbing, mountain biking and high-speed luge street races. More than 350 daredevils from around the world who usually perform for the thrill of it will compete for $370,000 in prizes and worldwide television exposure.
For this we can thank, or blame, ESPN2 producer Ron Semiao, who was thinking up novel events for his new channel a year ago when it occurred to him to put them all together. ESPN president Steve Bornstein liked the idea so much that he committed $10 million to it, assigned top production people and even set up an anchor desk, where Chris Fowler and Suzy Kolber - who presumably drew the short straws - will co-host.
“Once you tune in, you’ll stay there,” predicts Josh Krulewitz of ESPN. That is more than can be said about baseball during pitching changes three times a week on ESPN. Clearly, “Extreme Games” is a hot-weather happening, when TV sports pickings are very slim.
“I think the appeal of ‘Extreme Games’ will involve lifestyle and culture,” said Krulewitz. Translated, that means the young and the restless. Major sponsors targeting them, and lending legitimacy to the program, include Miller, Nike, Chevy Trucks, Pontiac and AT&T.;
The telecasts will alternate between live action and quick-turnaround tape, with the latter allowing the day’s highlights to be packaged, similar to Olympic coverage. There will be 25 hours on ESPN and 20 on ESPN2, with three hours of prime-time coverage on one of the channels almost every night.
Already is known for production innovation, ESPN will turn it up a notch for this. “We will try to let viewers be the eyes and ears of the competitors,” said Krulewitz.
That means tumbling through the sky from 13,000 feet, defying the laws of gravity on a climb, and speeding around Providence’s College Hill at 70 mph.
“We’re going to present this as legitimate competition,” said senior producer Fred Gaudelli, who handles the NFL for ESPN. “We are going to have a lot of helmet-cams. Once I got into this, I got sucked in.”