8:00am PT by Lesley Goldberg
'American Ninja Warrior' Spinoff, LeBron James Series in the Works at Esquire (Exclusive)
Esquire Network is turning to proven formats and name producers for its next round of unscripted series.
Ahead of its May 14 upfront presentation to Madison Avenue, the network has put four series into development: spinoffs of American Ninja Warrior and Friday Night Tykes, as well as a remake of Educating Britain and a sports-themed docuseries from executive producer LeBron James and Magical Elves.
"We're excited to partner with some of the biggest names in the industry as Esquire Network continues to gain momentum and grow its investment in authentic and original programming,” said original-programming head Matt Hanna. "This new lineup of dynamic and provocative content reinforces our commitment to speak to the passions and interests of today’s modern man."
Esquire, NBCUniversal's lifestyle network, is fresh off its most-watched quarter in history — with April on pace to deliver its seventh month in a row of year-over-year growth among the advertiser-coveted adults 18-49 demographic.
Team Ninja Warrior hails from the producers of the network's (and NBC's) long-running remake of American Ninja Warrior. The series, from A. Smith's Arthur Smith and Kent Weed, will put its own spin on the competition: For the first time, ninjas will form teams and race head-to-head through the world's toughest obstacle course. The final match of each episode will consist of a relay element for a sprint to the finish — and a new level of pressure for its competitors.
American Ninja Warrior has been a stellar performer for Esquire and NBC. Last season, the series featured the first woman to climb its famed warped wall and topped CBS' pricey drama Under the Dome in the key demo. Expanding the franchise makes sense for Esquire, which broadcasts the summer staple in addition to NBC.
Friday Night Tykes: Western, PA is a spinoff focusing on Beaver County — home of NFL legends Mike Ditka and Joe Namath — where youth football is a birthright. The series, produced by 441 Productions, focuses on the pressure kids feel to be superstars coming from parents, coaches and their entire communities. The series is a spinoff of the controversial flagship series, which takes place in Texas and which has been a ratings standout for Esquire, setting series highs in its second season.
Educating America is based on the BAFTA-winning U.K. series Educating Britain, and it explores what happens inside American schools. From TwoFour America, with David Clews and Andrew MacKenzie executive producing, the series will look to capture the true experience of staff and students as they navigate life in high school.
Rounding out the slate is Winner's Circle, from NBA All-Star James and Magical Elves. The series will take viewers on what's described as the "most epic sporting weekend" of their lives, following two celebrity friends who serve as comedic hosts and offer behind-the-scenes access to events like the Kentucky Derby, Super Bowl, Masters, X Games and NBA All-Star Weekend, while exploring parties, fan culture and local highlights. From James' Spring Hill Productions banner and Magical Elves, James and Maverick Carter, Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz (Project Runway, Cold Justice) will exec produce.
The series isn't James' first foray into TV; he's also prepping an NBC game show in which teams compete for life-changing amounts of money, and he serves as an exec producer on Starz's Survivor's Remorse.