March 05, 2014 9:04am PT by Marisa Guthrie
Golf Channel Announces Three-Hour Doc About Arnold Palmer (Exclusive)
Golf Channel will bow a comprehensive three-part documentary about the life and career of Arnold Palmer, perhaps golf's greatest player and certainly the game's most beloved. The 84-year-old Palmer won four Masters titles in seven years, has earned fans and friends as varied as President Bill Clinton, Yankees manager Joe Torre and supermodel Kate Upton and is known for never refusing a fan an autograph.
Arnie premieres Sunday, April 13, the final day of The Masters (Palmer has kicked off the tournament since 2007), and continues through April 15, at 10 p.m. each night. It is the first project from Golf Channel Films and represents what network president Mike McCarley hopes will be a succession of high-quality long-form documentaries that can draft off of golf's biggest events – even if those events are not airing on Golf Channel. The Masters is broadcast by CBS and ESPN. Golf Channel, one of the Comcast channels that became part of the NBC Sports division with the Comcast-NBC merger, is the exclusive cable home of the PGA Tour. And since 2011 NBC's golf coverage has been branded Golf Channel on NBC. McCarley, who was named president of the network in February 2011 after several years at NBC Sports, stresses the channel's "commitment to quality" since Orlando-based Golf Channel became part of the NBC Sports portfolio.
"The foundation of the network is live tournaments," says McCarley. "And we surround those live tournaments with news, instruction and original programming and the key for us is to produce all of those different types of programming with a real keen eye on quality because we have the most affluent audience on television."
Golf Channel had its most-watched year in its 19-year history in 2013, the third consecutive year the channel set that benchmark. The network's total day average has increased 54 percent since the channel joined the NBC Sports Group. And Golf Channel, which is available in 85 million homes, commands among the richest ad rates rates in all of television, even topping CNBC, with CPM (cost per thousand viewers) rates as high as $35. While its bread-and-butter continues to be live events, regular programs including In Play With Jimmy Roberts and David Feherty's interview show have developed loyal followings among the golf-obsessed.
"I've had two presidents – one a Democrat, one a Republican – tell me that they know Golf Channel is one of the places that they can turn where they know someone's not going to be saying something mean about them," observes McCarley.
The Palmer documentary has been over a year in the making and will include more than 100 interviews with Palmer's friends, peers and fans including President Clinton, Kurt Russell, Herm Edwards, Bob Costas, Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus. The film is produced by veteran NBC Sports and Olympics producer Israel DeHerrera and written by 18-time Emmy winner Aaron Cohen. It will explore Palmer's legacy as an entrepreneur (he started IMG in 1960 with his agent, Mark McCormack; the agency was bought last December by WME and Silver Lake Partners for $2.3 billion), pitchman (for Pennzoil motor oil, Rolex watches), adventurer (in 1976 he set a record for circumnavigating the globe in a Learjet 36) and cultural icon (he was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson and in 1967 became the first golfer to earn more than $1 million on the PGA Tour).
"Golf is a sport that's rich with great story," adds McCarley. "And Arnold Palmer is at the center of a lot of those great stories."