ESPN has greenlighted a weekly documentary series for 2005 called “Timeless” that profiles sports stories from the past and present.
The network has ordered 30 episodes of the half-hour series, which will debut Jan. 1. ESPN’s second scripted series, the poker-themed “Tilt,” is also set to debut next month.
“Timeless” is produced under the ESPN Original Entertainment umbrella and based on a three-part newsmagazine special of the same name that aired in March. Completed episodes include a look at a California cross country team comprising children of Mexican immigrants, a profile of a Buddhist monk golfer and a chronicle of Princeton chess players who face off against prison inmates. ESPN is in talks with Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Dhani Jones to host.
“It’s for nontraditional and traditional sports fans,” said ESPN executive producer Michael Antinoro. “There are a lot of really compelling sports stories that there is not a home for on our other shows. The stories may not be timely, where we have to get them out tomorrow, but fans will still want hear them.”
Mr. Antinoro said the series was ordered despite lackluster ratings for the March trial run.
“The reaction was great even though the ratings weren’t great,” he said. “We showed [the three-part special] in three separate windows without any consistency and the people who saw them reacted very favorably.”
The ESPN OE department is enjoying newfound success since the airing of its Dale Earnhardt biopic “3” earlier this month.
The premiere of “3” was watched in 4.4 million households, an ESPN record for an original movie, according to the network. The telepic also scored with critics, a boon for the network after the critical pans received by its Pete Rose biopic, “Hustle,” which debuted in September.
Still, the movie and series efforts will continue to represent a small fraction of ESPN programming. About 5 percent of ESPN’s schedule is filled by original entertainment programming, a figure that is not expected to change, a network spokesperson said.