ESPN is diving head-first into yet another new area of programming. Defending Pammy champion Chris Spielman will be the host of “Rise Up,” a series that will focus on high schools in need being given new athletic facilities. In addition, ESPN is teaming up with country megastar Kenny Chesney for an original theme song for the series. Here are some details from Hollywood Reporter…
Hosted by ESPN college football analyst Chris Spielman and DIY television personality Deanne Bell (PBS’ Design Squad), Rise Up gives needy high schools’ athletic facilities a makeover. The franchise bowed with a backdoor pilot last fall at New Orleans’ McMain Secondary High School. ESPN is currently in production on new installments in Boston, Seattle, Chicago and Wellston, Ohio, while executives hope to expand the series to six yearly installments in 2012.
Rise Up comes at a time when the recession has sapped funding for public education making sports and extracurricular activities particularly vulnerable. ESPN enlists local businesses to donate materials and man-hours so that the renovation project is a community effort. Each hour is bookended by the surprise announcement that the school has been chosen and the final reveal of the shiny new athletic facilities.
It may sound a little sappy, but this is a great idea. I dig more of Kenny’s island stuff, but as long as he produces something more like “I Go Back” and less like “Boys of Fall” it should be decent (there’s the country music analysis you’ve all been desperately waiting for at AA…). ESPN usually hasn’t succeeded when they’ve strayed too far from the reservation in terms of televising sports, but “Rise Up” may be different. Chris Spielman may seem like a random choice, but this could be a great move for him. Spielman has had to battle adversity in his own life, losing his NFL career to a neck injury and tragically losing his wife Stefanie to breast cancer and can definitely fill a motivating/inspirational role for the series. (The Stefanie Spielman Fund has raised over 8.5 million dollars for breast cancer research, by the way.) Also, this won’t be Chris Spielman’s first hosting gig as he hosted an ESPNU reality series in 2006, Summer House… which I honestly never knew existed before yesterday.
As for the new series, ESPN can draw in new viewers that would rather watch Extreme Makeover than NFL Live and wouldn’t normally tune in to ESPN. I can’t imagine the numbers for this series will be huge, but it can easily find a viewing niche. At the very least, a few high schools will get some much needed help. There are so many schools in need around the country and good on ESPN for being proactive in involving communities to help these schools. Hopefully, the program inspires other communities to do the same with their local school’s athletic facilities. The series debuts September 13th.