NBA SHOOTS FOR POSITIVE SPIN WITH NEW TV SHOWS: LEAGUE ALSO WILL DEBUT NBA.COM, ITS BRANDED 24-HOUR CABLE NETWORK

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Drama, anger, comedy and triumph already make up much of the real-life National Basketball Association games. So why not put this passion to even more entertaining use?

Like David Robinson playing the good guy down the street, and Dennis Rodman, as -- who else -- the crazy neighbor.

That's the latest scheme from the already highly marketed NBA, now looking to heighten its image efforts on TV, with an NBA-themed sitcom/drama being developed with Columbia TriStar Television.

Separately, the NBA is looking to produce animated NBA-based shows for the Saturday morning crowd.

"We are looking to get more ubiquity [in the marketplace]," said NBA Commissioner David Stern.

GOOD SPIN FOR THE NBA

Since it's in the early stages of development, few details exist about the as-yet-unnamed Columbia TriStar show. But a goal is to provide some good marketing spin for the league, promoting past and present NBA players with guest appearances.

"One notion would be having the 30th NBA team and moving real live players through it," Mr. Stern said.

There are now 29 teams in the NBA, and, though no expansion plans are in the works, Mr. Stern thinks a 30th team could play a role in the program, giving it a head start via promotion from the show.

Tim Spengler, senior VP-general manager of national broadcast, Western Initiative Media, said promotion of the teams must be a secondary goal if it is to work. An NBA-based program still "has to stand on its own," he said. "Sure, it could work, but only if it's a backdrop for real character drama development. The show has to have broad appeal for it to make it in prime time."

Kids are the NBA's second target for new programming. Its yet-to-be-produced animated show is planned to supplement its existing kids initiatives, including "Inside Stuff," a Saturday morning highlight and interview program on NBC-TV.

"We are having discussions about animation with two or three different producers," Mr. Stern said. "It's even more promising, especially with global opportunities."

He added, "We have the largest participation of boys and girls of any team sport [in the U.S.], and we want to make sure we continue to enjoy that."

NBA.COM COMING

The NBA also will be the star of its own 24-hour digital cable network, NBA.com TV, being launched Nov. 2. Initially, the network will be carried by DirecTV and cable pay-per-view network Viewers Choice.

NBA.com TV will feature live, in-studio programming, live "look-ins" on games in progress, game highlights, vintage NBA games, NBA videos and specials, basketball-related talk shows, and basketball-themed movies.

Much of the programming will be produced by NBA Entertainment, the NBA's production arm. The network also will feature real-time statistics, scores and news from NBA.com, the league's official Web site.

Mr. Stern said the market is ripe for sports-themed prime-time TV fare, pointing to the success of ABC-TV's sitcom/drama hybrid "Sports Night," loosely based on ESPN's "SportsCenter."

Also scenting a kids' TV market for sports, Nascar is producing "Nascar Racers,"

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