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Director Kirby Bradley (Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel) spent extensive time with the family of the beloved San Diego Charger to capture a portrait of the Hall of Famer who, after his 2012 suicide at the age of 43, was found to have suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy. In recent years, there have been increased calls for the league to take seriously the link between CTE, which is believed to be derived from repeated concussions, and emotional, behavioral and mental issues suffered by former football players, which in several instances has had fatal consequences.
“Something that 30 for 30 does so well is taking a big topic or what could be a big thematic film that someone else may do, but we’re going to drill down and tell a story,” Libby Geist, vp and executive producer of ESPN Films and Original Content, tells THR. “Humanizing some of the topics that are in the news and in the sports culture is something I feel really proud about.”
Seau will premiere Sept. 20 exclusively on ESPN+. Geist explains that the documentary is being used to help encourage fans to sign up for the streaming service, just as fellow 30 for 30 film The Last Days of Knight did when it debuted on the platform’s April 12 launch date: “As the service is in its infancy, we’re flattered that our bosses are telling us that we have titles and that the equity of 30 for 30 will bring fans to Plus and hopefully keep people there.”
The Last Days of Knight, about Indiana University’s firing of legendary coach Bob Knight, will air on TV for the first time Nov. 29 on ESPN, and going forward, new 30 for 30 docs will resume bowing on television, while ESPN+ will house the acclaimed series’ entire archive.
Those new features premiering on ESPN include 42 to 1 on Dec. 11, about Buster Douglas’ infamous 1990 upset knockout of Mike Tyson at the Tokyo Dome. Co-directors Ben Houser and ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap have a week’s worth of footage that will be seen by viewers for the first time. And on Jan. 31, ESPN will premiere an untitled doc about two-sport superstar Deion Sanders, focusing specifically on 24 hours in October 1992 when he traveled back-and-forth-and-back-again between two cities a thousand miles apart for two playoff games for the Atlanta Braves and a matchup for the Atlanta Falcons. The NFL Films-produced feature was directed by Ken Rodgers, who previously helmed 30 for 30‘s The Two Bills, Four Falls of Buffalo and Elway to Marino.
Since the Oscar-winning success of the brand’s 2016 miniseries O.J.: Made in America, 30 for 30 has continued to take a format-agnostic approach to storytelling. The new slate also includes the return of 30 for 30 Podcasts, which launched last spring. The fourth season will start up Oct. 16 with a lineup of subjects that include the making of Jose Canseco’s controversial memoir Juiced, Hideo Nomo and the advent of Japanese players in Major League Baseball, the 2003 World Series of Poker (which launched the tournament into mainstream recognition) and the 1972 New York City Marathon protest over barring women from the race. And the next 30 for 30 short will be Sonic Break, about daredevil Felix Baumgartner’s attempt to jump from a space capsule 23 miles above the earth’s surface, plummeting at 690 miles per hour. The Stevan Riley-directed film will premiere Sept. 23 on ESPN and Oct. 14 on ESPN+.
“Since the success of O.J.: Made in America, we have realized how important it is to let a story be whatever length it needs to be,” Geist says. “We feel lucky because we don’t have to pass on stories that we love but don’t fit perfectly into a one- or two-hour TV [time slot]. And certainly ESPN+ has allowed for some flexibility as well. For me, the best evolution over the last few years has been that 30 for 30 can live in all these forms and lengths, and [we can] just figure out the right place for the stories we love.”
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