|Wednesday, February 4
NFL reaction to series a factor in cancellation
By Darren Rovell
"Playmakers" has been sacked.
After months of speculation about its future, ESPN's originally scripted series about a fictional professional football team will not return, a company official said Wednesday. One of the main reasons for cutting the series after the first season was the reaction from the NFL brass.
"Many considerations went into this decision, not the least of which was the reaction from a longtime and valued partner," said Mark Shapiro, ESPN's executive vice president of programming and production. "We are proud of the show on many levels -- it was a creative and critical success, and we are appreciative that viewers clearly embraced this new genre on our network."
Reached at the Pro Bowl, some NFL players applauded the move.
"They should have canceled it," Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis told ESPN.com. "That show don't mean nothing -- that show is nothing about us."
"I'm glad they canceled it," Bengals offensive tackle Willie Anderson said. "It one of those false interpretations people get about the NFL and the players. If the NFL's serious about our image and the image that we portray, canceling it is a good thing."
In its only season, "Playmakers" won critical praise and pulled in a significant audience -- an average of 1.6 million households for each of the show's 11 episodes.
Although the finale drew approximately two million viewers, longtime NFL sponsor Gatorade announced before the show that it had decided to pull its advertising for that episode.
"It was an ESPN decision and now we can all move on," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Wednesday. "We're looking forward to Sunday night's Pro Bowl and another great season with ESPN in 2004."
ESPN broadcasts NFL games on Sunday night, and ABC -- which, like ESPN, is owned by the Walt Disney Co. -- televises "Monday Night Football." The rights deal for both broadcasts runs through the 2005 season.
Earlier in the just-completed 2003 season, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue admitted to calling Disney CEO Michael Eisner to express his displeasure with what he thought were the show's "one-dimensional" plots.
The adult drama, ESPN's first series, featured plots that touched on drug use, marital infidelity and homophobia. The show caught criticism from NFL players.
"I think some of the issues that they hit on hit home with some guys and in the NFL and that we have some problems that they hit on in the show," Jets center Kevin Mawae told ESPN.com. "But they took every worst-case scenario, put them all on the same team and unfortunately a lot of people that don't really know football think that's what we're all about."
"I thought it was a show that had some things that went on in the NFL," said Willie McGinest of the world champion Patriots. "I never really watched it that much, but from what I hear it was a good show."
Darren Rovell covers sports business for ESPN.com. ESPN.com's NFL editor Peter Lawrence-Riddell contributed to this story.
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