'Signature' for 2: ESPN makes a Hollywood play

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Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN, looking to differentiate its ESPN2 station from the main network, will turn to Hollywood to give the channel a new identity.

Today, network executives will watch as a pilot episode of "ESPN Hollywood" is filmed in Los Angeles. The half-hour program will focus on the blend of sports and entertainment. Mark Shapiro, ESPN's exec VP-programming and production, said the show would be a sports version of the long-running syndicated Hollywood show "Entertainment Tonight."

Much is riding on the pilot. Network executives said if "ESPN Hollywood" is a success in the 6 p.m. time slot Monday to Friday on ESPN2, they would follow it with a one-hour program at 6:30 p.m. that Mr. Shapiro described as "sports news and information," hosted by a strong personality reminiscent of Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly. The news-and-information program would be a lead-in to ESPN2's live game coverage, which will remain a staple of the network.

"Where we're struggling is signature, identity-driven programming around those live events," Mr. Shapiro said. "What's the `SportsCenter' for ESPN2? What is the `Chappelle [Show]' for ESPN2?" he added, referring to the breakout shows on ESPN and Comedy Central.

ESPN2 already has a morning-show program, "Cold Pizza," and recently added nationally known sports columnists Skip Bayless and Woody Paige to the program. "Cold Pizza" is also being moved from 7 a.m. to an 8 a.m. start time.

In the last two years ESPN has added original programming with feature films such as "Season on the Brink" and "The Junction Boys" and the upcoming "Hustle," about baseball player Pete Rose.

If "ESPN Hollywood" is a success, ESPN2 will also add a late-night interview program airing at midnight live from Los Angeles.

"If you're not trying new things with five or 10% of whatever it is you're managing, then you're not on a growth curve," said George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN and ABC Sports. "At a company like ESPN, we feel like we must continue to grow."

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