Monday, August 26, 2013

Playmakers Airs On ESPN

On Aug, 26, 2003, Playmakers, the first original dramatic series to air on ESPN, broadcasts its first episode on the world wide leader in sports. Set in a fictitious setting referred to simply as "The League," Playmakers revolved around the behind-the-scene lives of players on the equally-fictitious Cougars football team. The show dealt with many risque issues, including drug use, homosexuality, and the mistreatment of women, and had an extremely dark and edgy feel to it. The show garnered mixed reviews that generally applauded the show's cast and acting but criticized the at times melodramatic storylines.

Alessandra Stanley of the New York Times wrote, "It is hard to imagine that regular ESPN viewers will want to watch a show that is so suited in tone and temperament to watchers of TNT or the Lifetime channel. It is equally hard to believe that viewers who love 'E.R.' or 'The Practice,' will pick a football melodrama over other equally well-executed new shows this fall." But Tom Shales of the Washington Post wrote, "If pro football bores you, are you likely to find anything intriguing in 'Playmakers?' Surprisingly, yes. It's well enough acted and written to sustain interest as a story of professional people under almost preposterous pressure."

While the show never explicitly mentioned the NFL, Playmakers stirred controversy in a hurry as people put and two-and-two together; after all, there was only one professional football league in America that the show's ideas, if at all true, could have been based on. NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue blasted the show and called it "a rather gross mischaracterization of our sport." ESPN's senior VP of programming, Ron Semaio, defended the show, saying, "Playmakers is no more about life in the NFL than 'Gomer Pyle' was about life in the Marine Corps."

Nonetheless, the NFL was not pleased with the show's negative portrayal of professional football. Playmakers was a ratings success for ESPN, but after being pressured by the NFL to get if off the year, ESPN, who had aired NFL games since 1987, did just that and canceled the program after 13 episodes.
''The NFL is entitled to its opinion,'' John Eisendrath, the show's creator, told the New York Times. "But I think they're wrong, and I think they're bullies. They're a monopoly. I think it fell to ESPN to have the strength to stand up to the NFL's opinion. It's offensive to me that they would bully ESPN that way, so I'm most offended by the NFL's attitude, which is blatantly hypocritical considering some of the things that go on in the league, which far exceed anything I wrote about.''