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The Los Angeles Times from Los Angeles, California • Page 42

Los Angeles, California
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2004:01:23:21:23:03 SPORTS D13 LOSANGELESTIMES 25, 2004 For home delivery, call 1-800-LA TIMES, or pick up a copy atyour newsstand. 03ED014 MOREONSUNDAY Sunday Calendar PartI A KeenEye Writer Rachel Abramowitz profiles Nina Jacobson, head of Buena film division. This Disney executive had a big year with her signature movies like Sunday Calendar PartII Going Solo? Stepping away from the longtime group that bears his name, Dave Matthews releases a solo album and goes on tour with a different set of musicians. ORI HEPLER Los Angeles Times last year, not with the smart and confident 33-year-old as head of programming. Sitting at a long conference table, sipping yet another coffee, Shapiro says: this business, you have to be willing to The majority owner, Walt Disney seems to agree.

With the NFL and other leagues commanding multimillions for broadcast rights, Disney chairman Michael Eisner told the Hollywood Reporter: has got to get off the heroin of professional rights, just like HBO got off the heroin of movie rights with shows like in the So while the future of remains in limbo a decision is promised this spring has forged ahead with a morning talk show, aproject Shapiro fusses over, visiting the set to make suggestions. Movies about Pete Rose and Dale Earnhardt are in the works. Some fans might shudder. Has ESPN forsaken games? Where will the aficionado turn for afternoon tractor pulls and NBA replays at 3 a.m.? Shapiro wants these viewers to pause and take a deep breath. He wants them to understand something about the new-style programming.

of our he says. The network still broadcasts every major sport and has a new deal with Wimbledon, he says. It still has bowling and billiards and bass fishing, and added more than 625 hours of major programming last year. Further assurance comes from George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN and its sister ABC Sports. He says: is and always will be about games and sports news.

what got us 24 years down the Still, in the culture of sport, so enamored with its records and halls of fame, any hint of change can be threatening. As David Carter, a sports business consultant who teaches at USC, puts it, Bodenheimer has given enough rope to hang It is ironic Shapiro must defend his commitment to sports given that the Chicago native grew up bugging his father for tickets to Notre Dame games, keeping a radio under the covers so he could listen to Night past bedtime. As a teenager, he announced games for his high closed-circuit television station, then enrolled at the University of Iowa for its broadcast curriculum. knew what I wanted to do and I shy about he says. In 1993, after college and a stint at NBC Sports, Shapiro landed as a production assistant for Jim nightly show on ESPN2.

He appeared at dressing room door. know he said. can I ask you a He wanted to know how Rome juggled daily radio and television shows. He wanted to know whether he could help researching guests and preparing questions. yourself out, Rome told him.

The next day, Shapiro delivered what Rome calls perfectly crafted research Within six months, Shapiro was producer. had that Rome says. guy who really goes after Only 23, Shapiro established himself as imaginative and tireless, booking the best guests and ensuring the right questions got asked. In six time, he moved to then then to head of ESPN Classic. Mention of this rapid rise causes him to squirm.

been at this for 12 he protests. But dovetails neatly into a quality that observers often cite when assessing his career. experience is a bit of an anchor, it can wed you to the says Neal Pilson, former head of CBS Sports who has served as a consultant to ESPN. is not afraid to take risks and change the texture and make bold Fans got a hint of this when his series ranked Secretariat among the top 50 athletes of the century, above Mickey Mantle and Pete Sampras, who asked: could a horse be ahead of By 2001, Shapiro had a ranking of his own among the Hollywood Promising Executives on the The following year he was promoted to executive vice president for programming and production over the entire network. The new job came with a mandate: higher ratings.

Shapiro insists he has done nothing more than surround himself with talent. But listen to his story about exercising on a treadmill one day with on television. was a great, meaty, juicy political subject and they were going he says. remember thinking we should create a show that would allow for spirited debate in the sports Washington Post columnists Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon came to mind because they often called Shapiro to debate segments that had appeared on ESPN. Two years ago, they were hired for the the half-hour gabfest that has become a runaway daytime hit.

Still, it is a stretch to go from sports talk to developing feature-length films. Shapiro falls back on a sports television axiom: The secret to broadcasting games is to tell a story, to give viewers something to root for. Are movies so different? course there are a lot of elements where is the arc and is it compelling, the he says. I believe I know how to tell good stories and I have a knack and instinct for good This confidence leads him to criticize without hesitation, listing the deficiencies of a certain producer, describing how a former on-air personality avoided asking tough questions. He dishes out praise in equal amounts.

Rome calls it very clear vision of the Not everyone in Hollywood agrees. Although Junction the story of Bear early days coaching football was a success, critics panned the Bobby Knight movie Season on the On another project, the nightly talk show Shapiro butted heads with comedian Jay Mohr. Though Mohr declined to comment for this article, he reportedly complained that ESPN failed to promote the show and micromanaged its production. Shapiro counters: I added my two cents, they shut me down and told me I know anything about Canceledfor low ratings, Mohr appeared on Late Late Show with Craig and referred to Shapiro with an expletive, saying they see Hollywood producer Gavin Polone had a similar complaint working with ESPN on an idea he described as a show about a college athletic department. was really evident early on that they wanted to appeal to the lowest common denominator by coming up with a sensationalistic Polone said.

start getting notes from these executives, and they were making the show As producer of Your and on the WB, Polone is not impressed by ratings for shows such as which drew 1.7 million viewers in its first season, or quadruple what had been the audience for Tuesday night broadcasts of college basketball and other ESPN shows. ratings would have been there for any scripted show on ESPN because a real market for he says. The naysayers have spoken loudly enough that, in private, some of supporters have wondered whether his job wasin jeopardy. questions are Bodenheimer says. has taken some of the heat, but one operates in a vacuum Thehigh ratings which include a recent influx of female viewers ages 18-34 who watch cannot be underestimated.

They give ESPN ammunition for charging higher fees to cable and satellite companies. They provide leverage when the NHL contract comes up for renewal this year. And they have cemented reputation in the business of sport. Experts look beyond the flap with Limbaugh, who resigned after proclaiming that Donovan McNabb of the Philadelphia Eagles was overrated because the media favor black quarterbacks. The controversy is similarly expected to pass, as the network has softened its stance in recent weeks.

earned his Carter says of Shapiro. made some mistakes, but at the end of the day, he keeps reaching out and trying to The thing is, Shapiro dismisses the tag as quickly as he shrugs off harsh words from critics. Maybe humility despite his position, he is clearly uncomfortable being the focal point for all the network has accomplished in the last two years. He let a photographer take his picture for this article. Besides, he sees grand experiment as an obvious choice.

After more than an hour at the conference table, eager to get on with his day, he tries to explain by way of his childhood, the Bears and Walter Payton, the Cubs at Wrigley Field. was the he says. played such a role in my His mind works this way, moving past scores and statistics, drawing rapid-fire associations with Muhammad Ali and the Vietnam War, Jackie breaking the color barrier. loved how sports tied to he says. they mirrored This is why Shapiro will not back down.

From early on, when he looked at games, he saw drama and ethos. Mythology, even. All the things that make for agood movie. ESPN Executive Takes Programming Risks Shapiro, from Page D1 ESPN SHOW BUSINESS: Mark experiments at ESPN include, from the top, the controversial series and the made-for-TV movies Junction starring Tom Berenger, and Season on the starring Brian Dennehy..

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