ESPN this weekend will begin making good on a promise to provide its corporate broadcast sibling ABC affiliates with sports programming, when it gives them two hours of sports-themed shows. On tap: a new 60-minute sports-highlights–driven show called Winners Bracket, along with an ESPN Films documentary Guru of Go, which chronicles the Loyola Marymount University basketball team and the death of its star Hank Gathers.
When ABC affiliates complained earlier this year that ESPN was moving live sports programming off the network to televise on cable , ESPN executives promised they would be developing new shows and concepts to give back to the ABC stations that could air on weekend afternoons.
The two-hour block, called ESPN Sports Saturday on ABC, will premiere on Saturday, April 3 from 4-6 p.m. It will air from April through mid-August, and after a hiatus, will return with another round of shows from December through August 2011.
During the second half of the block each week, local ABC affiliate stations will have the opportunity to insert local updates to promote their upcoming programming. Winners Bracket will be hosted by ESPN SportsNation’s Michelle Beadle and NFL analyst Marcellus Wiley.
The hosts will debate and recap the week in sports in what ESPN is describing as a “fast-tempo, quick-witted, bracket-style format with the 16 biggest newsmakers of the week pitted against each other in seeded brackets.”
Each round will include debates by the hosts framed through highlights, and the show will conclude with the selection of the definitive play of the week which will be the bracket champion.
Other elements of the show will include interviews with athletes and coaches, a countdown of the 20 lowlights of the week, sports-themed Web videos and a look at some athletes who missed making the bracket. In addition, ESPN commentators will offer perspective. “It will be a one-hour sprint through seven days of highlights and lowlights,” said Jamie Horowitz, coordinating producer.
The show will resemble ESPN’s SportsNation, hosted by Beadle and Colin Cowherd, which airs weekday afternoons on ESPN.
ESPN SportsCenter’s Hannah Storm will anchor the two-hour block, which will begin with a 60-minute episode of one of three ESPN Series -- "30 for 30" documentaries, E:60 news magazine or the athlete interview series Homecoming with Rick Reilly. AT&T and Michelin will sponsor both the overall ESPN Sports Saturday on ABC and Winners Bracket.
On April 10, Sports Saturday will open with Homecoming with Rick Reilly during which he will interview Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer. And Winners Bracket will follow.
In addition to the new ESPN Sports Saturday, ESPN on ABC has been providing the network and its stations with NBA regular-season games, playoffs and the NBA Finals; FIFA World Cup soccer; Nascar Sprint Cup; the Indianapolis 500; the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament semifinals and championship; the Belmont Stakes; Little League World Series; and Saturday night college football in prime time.
See also: "ESPN Fields Major Sports Research Initiative"