Outside The Lines has long been one of the highlights of ESPN’s programming and has produced countless impressive stories over the years, as illustrated in the 25th anniversary special aired Tuesday night, but it’s received somewhat of a lower profile in recent years thanks to moving timeslots and bumps to ESPN2 and ESPNews. ESPN appears to have given the show an anniversary present, though, announcing Wednesday that while OTL will move to ESPN2 this week and stay there for a few months, it will return to the main network in a long-term position in October:
As noted in 2013 when OTL moved to ESPN2 regularly, the show presents a dichotomy for ESPN. On the one hand, OTL frequently produces remarkable journalism, and it’s led the way on a lot of essential sports stories, particularly the concussion crisis. ESPN loves to be driving the conversation, and they like the plaudits they get for OTL’s journalism, which have included multiple Sports Emmys, a Peabody Award and the Columbia School of Journalism’s DuPont Award. On the other hand, though, hard-hitting news and investigations don’t always draw the most viewers, which has helped lead to OTL being bumped in favour of such quality programming as “Colin’s New Football Show.” Colin Cowherd talking about the NFL isn’t going to win any awards for anyone, but from a business side, that’s not all that matters.
We’ll see if the 1:30 slot on ESPN can be sustainable for OTL in the long run. Returning it to the main network is certainly an auspicious sign, even if there are a few months in the ESPN2 wilderness ahead, and the indication that this is a long-term move is also positive. The future of OTL seems secure, especially with long-time host Bob Ley’s recent multi-year contract extension, and the 25th anniversary special suggests this is a brand ESPN believes in going forward. However, there are always going to be questions about the ratings. OTL delivers a lot of positives for ESPN from a brand standpoint, from a journalism standpoint and from a programming standpoint; we’ll find out this fall if that really will be enough to keep it on the main network for the long run, or if we’re going to see this program moved around again.