Executives at ESPN Films will tell you that more people ask about "The U" than any other 30 for 30 documentary they've ever done. The film, which debuted on Dec. 12, 2009, chronicled the fusion between the growing hip-hop culture in Miami and the swaggering University of Miami football program that won four national titles between 1983 and 1991. At the time it was the most-watched ESPN documentary ever, with 2.368 million viewers tuning in.
The initial pitch from the filmmakers for The U -- it was originally titled “Hurricane Season” -- included a segment on the 12-0 national championship team in 2001, which many observers consider one of the best college teams in history. But it soon became obvious to everyone that the 1980s Miami teams were a documentary onto itself. So following the success of the original doc, “The U” director Billy Corben began pitching ESPN Films executives Connor Schell and John Dahl to do a sequel. One of the selling points was the 2001 team, which featured more than a dozen first round NFL draft picks. Last year ESPN Films greenlit a sequel, a first for the 30 for 30 series.
“We are hitting the fifth anniversary of the launch of 30 for 30 and of all the films we have done, The U consistently comes up as a favorite,” Dahl said. “That tells us something. The other thing is when we were working on the original and I went down to Miami in the summer of 2009, the challenge was how to bottle such a big story. It seemed like there was a good stopping point in the mid-90s when the program started to fall after [coach] Dennis Erickson left. This is not a repeat of the film five years ago. This is a pickup of where that film left off because there is so much more to cover.”
The U Part 2 will debut after the Heisman Trophy presentation on December 13 at 9:00 p.m. ET. The film runs two hours and Corben said the sequel goes from 1992 to present day. “I say present day in the loose sense of through Al Golden and the resolution of the most recent NCAA stuff,” he said.
Principal photography and filming is completed (they began shooting in May) and the crew is close to wrapping up all of the interviews. Among the former Hurricanes who will appear in The U Part 2: Phillip Buchanon, Butch Davis, Najeh Davenport, Kenny Holmes, Bryant McKinnie, Santana Moss, Ed Reed, Antrel Rolle, Mike Rumph, Jeremy Shockey and DJ Williams, who Corben praised during an interview as a great storyteller.
Corben said the sequel will have some stylistic similarities to the first film but “The U Part 2” will be updated with a pace and aesthetic fitting the 2000s. (So expect less 2 Live Crew on the soundtrack). “This presents a different era of not only Hurricanes football but of Miami itself,” said Corben, who will work with his same producer (Alfred Spellman) for this film as he did on The U. “In South Florida we saw more white collar crimes. We saw a proliferation of Medicare fraud, mortgage fraud and Ponzi schemers. Part of the appeal of the first film was not just the style and pace but the way the program reflected the city and vice versa. That is part of what informs our style.”
The boom-and-bust culture of Miami has been a longtime interest of filmmaker Corben, a Miami resident and University of Miami alum. He and Spellman teamed up for "Cocaine Cowboys," which examined the Miami drug culture in the 1970s and 1980s through the lens of the smugglers and hitmen of the cocaine wars.
Dahl said he will measure the success of the sequel on the anecdotal impact it has on the audience. “Are they talking about it the next day or the week after and will we continue to hear about this one in the years afterward,” Dahl said. “We know there is a lot of anticipation for this one and a lot to live up to. There is a high bar with the original U. We want to make sure we deliver on what people loved about the first film while telling a fresh story here.”
SI.com examines some of the more notable sports media stories of the past week:
1. The relationship between CBS and the singer Rihanna did not last long. On Tuesday the network announced it would no longer be licensing the track of “Run This Town” by Jay Z (Rihanna sings on the song) as the music for its Thursday Night Football opener. Last week CBS pulled the music opener featuring actor Don Cheadle doing voiceover narration over Rihanna’s singing because the network said the tone was not appropriate in the wake of the Ray Rice scandal.
“It’s important to realize we are not overreacting to this story but it is as big a story as has faced the NFL,” CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus told Sports Illustrated from Baltimore last Thursday afternoon on why he pulled the segment. “We thought journalistically and from a tone standpoint, we needed to have the appropriate tone and coverage. A lot of the production elements we wanted in the show are being eliminated because of time or tone.”
Rihanna expressed her anger on Tuesday in a tweet: "CBS you pulled my song last week, now you wanna slide it back in this Thursday? NO, F— you! Y'all are sad for penalizing me for this. She followed with another tweet that read, "The audacity…"
Shortly afterward, a CBS Sports spokesperson released the following statement: “Beginning this Thursday, we will be moving in a different direction with some elements of our Thursday Night Football open," the network's sports division said in a statement. "We will be using our newly created Thursday Night Football theme music to open our game broadcast.”
CBS will now use an instrumental opener with the same customized Cheadle narration for the Thursday Night Football set of games. A network spokesperson said the music will be performed by an 80-person Croatian orchestra. Cheadle taped his script this summer.
1a. Sunday’s Bears’-Niners game drew 22.2 million viewers for NBC. That was up eight percent from last year’s Week 2 SNF game (49ers-Seahawks, 20.5 million) but down from the 23.7 million who watched the Colts-Broncos a week ago.
1b. The Panthers play the Steelers this Sunday night, a game airing on NBC. Here is NBC host Bob Costas on GregHardy: “Greg Hardy was arrested, he was charged, and he was convicted by a judge, and the details of what he is charged with are positively chilling,” Costas said. “And yet, the Panthers allowed him to continue playing pending an appeal, which isn’t scheduled to be heard for several weeks yet. They finally deactivated him. It’s hard to believe that all of a sudden they had some sort of moral epiphany. Obviously, they finally bent to overwhelming public pressure because there was no defending what they were doing.”
2. I recently asked Fox Sports president Eric Shanks how he would evaluate the current relationship between Fox Sports and New York-based radio host Mike Francesa. Francesa’s show is simulcast on Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2 weekday afternoons but is regularly pre-emepted by Fox’s contractual obligations to international soccer. It has not been an ideal situation for the sports-talk host, even with a nice pay day from Fox.
“We love the relationship with Mike and his voice in New York and nationally, he is widely regarded as one of the premier voices in not just sport radio but sports media,” Shanks said. “We continue to work with Mike. We want to be a place where people want to work and though he doesn’t work for us – he works directly for his radio station – we want to be a place people are happy to be a part of. We have been pretty upfront with what our schedule is and our commitments to live sports on certain days of the week. But if there is ever a point where he is not happy and we can’t make him happy…we will find a solution. We want Mike to be happy just like we want anybody to be happy that comes to work here.
Asked if his gut told him Francesa’s show would be aired on Fox Sports 1 one year from today, Shanks said, “Yeah, I think so. We will try really hard to make that happen.”
Fast forward to this Tuesday when Newsday’s Neil Best reported that Francesa said on his WFAN radio show (Fox Sports 1 was showing soccer at the time) that CBS Radio, which owns Francesa’s station, wrote a letter earlier this month threatening to sue him if he spoke on the air about the show's ongoing TV simulcast problems. A CBS Radio spokeswoman later told best that there had been no discussion of any kind in regards to a lawsuit." Upon learning of that statement, Francesa double-downed. "I was told not to say anything and I was handed a letter which in three different places says it will hold you liable and responsible for all the money in the agreement,” Francesa said. “That's a threat. It was deemed a threat by the people who looked at it.”
3. Here’s a quick snapshot of MLB’s postseason coverage:
• The World Series -- Fox will air it for the 15th consecutive year -- will open on Tuesday, Oct. 21 in the home ballpark of the American League pennant winner.
• ESPN will air the National League Wild Card Game on Wednesday, Oct. 1 (start time is TBD). ESPN Audio, the national radio home of the postseason, will broadcast both the NL and AL Wild Card Games.
• TBS will air the American League Wild Card on Sept. 30 and will also be the exclusive television home of the American League Division Series (ALDS), starting Oct. 2, and the American League Championship Series (ALCS). Pedro Martinez and Gary Sheffield return to TBS’ studio coverage with a new studio host: Casey Stern.
• Fox Sports 1 will televise up to eight of 10 National League Division Series games, beginning with a Game 1 doubleheader on Oct. 3. The National League Championship Series will open on big Fox on Oct. 11. NLCS Games 2, 3 and 4 are scheduled for telecast on Fox Sports 1, as are NLCS Games 5 and 7. A potential NLCS Game 6 is set for broadcast on FOX (Oct. 18).
• FOXSports.com’s will offer a second screen live video presentation under its Just a Bit Outside (JABO) blog banner. The alternate feed will be hosted by Kevin Burkhardt and feature analysts Gabe Kapler, CJ Nitkowski, and Rob Neyer.
4. Brian Urlacher resigned this week an analyst for Fox Sports 1. The former Bears linebacker explained his decision to 670 The Score in Chicago.
5. ESPN’s Michelle Beadle has joined HBO’s The Fight Game w/Jim Lampley as a features interviewer. The boxing studio show –which offers news, opinion and interviews -- will air monthly for the remainder of 2014.
Beadle’s SportsNation co-host Max Kellerman has been a regular on the show since its debut in 2012.
5a. Fox Sports 1 will air a huge Champions League match on Wednesday (2:00 PM ET) when Manchester City meets Bayern Munich live from the Allianz Arena in Munich.
5b. The Sports-Casters recently interviewed the acclaimed sports writer Jane Leavy.
5c. Terrific feature by ESPN producer Scott Harves on Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato.
5d. In case you missed it, here’s a long interview I did with Fox Sports 1’s Charissa Thompson on the media business and her role in it,, her failures, her successes, her relationships (she and ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Williams recently ended their relationship) and her interactions with people in the business.