A little over two years ago, we wrote about Connor Schell leaving ESPN to start his own production company. This week, tucked away in a Variety article with updates on Schell’s production company that included news of some key hires (more on that later) and projects, was a very noteworthy nugget.
Schell and Geist will continue a relationship with ESPN and produce “30 for 30” installments. Currently the studio is at work with [director Jason] Hehir on a “30 for 30” about professional golfer Greg Norman titled “Shark.”
“We spent so many years tapping into up-and-coming talent and working with A-list documentarians and that has given us a bit of a leg up as we start this production company,” Geist says. “There’s a lot of advantages in continuing to work with ESPN, and one of them is to say to new and existing talent, ‘Hey. We’re still looking for ‘30 for 30s.’ Send us your ideas, but also, by the way, what else excites you right now?’ Those are exciting conversations to have.”
The quotes above come from Libby Geist, who like Schell was a key executive in her role as vice president and executive producer of ESPN Films and 30 for 30. Geist announced her departure not long after Schell did, and this Variety article announces she’s joined Schell’s production company, Words+ Pictures, as executive VP and head of documentaries (a very good thing!).
As for the Norman project, this is certainly welcome news for fans of the series given that 2021 was 30 for 30‘s lowest output year in its existence with only two new installments. The pandemic was likely a big factor there. From 2011 to 2017, 30 for 30 released nine to eleven installments each year. Since then, we’ve seen two trends emerge with the series.
- Fewer installments, with no year having more than six installments. They had four installments in 2018, six in 2019, six in 2020 (but with the massive 10-part The Last Dance, directed by Hehir, also airing that year), and only two in 2021.
- The series focusing on longer multiple episode installments following the blueprint of OJ: Made in America and The Last Dance. They’ve since had projects focusing on Lance Armstrong, Michael Vick, Oscar Pistorius, and the 1986 Mets all clock in around four hours with commercials. (This trend is not specific to ESPN or 3o for 30, and has become an industry preference in the streaming era, but it’s notable that ESPN has adapted that.)
It’s unclear if the Norman project will fit that longer form mold, but it’s quite possible given Norman’s extensive career both as a golfer and a businessmen. The project’s director, Hehir, was the director for The Last Dance. And as we wrote about when Schell left ESPN, part of his exit seemed motivated to do more longform projects. So this project certainly has the pedigree to stretch this into a longer multi-episode installment.
Schell has been an internal champion for prestigious longform projects and seems to be zeroing in on capitalizing on the the growing trend of longer docuseries. Recently, shows like The Vow, Tiger King, and his The Last Dance have all found success this past year. By leaving ESPN, Schell will be better able to pursue those type of projects and be more hands-on.
So if you’re a fan of 30 for 30, that’s really two doses of good news here. First, Libby Geist and Connor Schell are still working on 30 for 30 projects despite not working at ESPN any more. And more importantly, 30 for 30 will at least continue to live on past its low watermark year of 2021. Let’s hope this is just a start on both of those things.