While plenty of sites have run with headlines like “ESPN’s ‘The Last Dance’ unlikely to be released early,” “ESPN just dumped cold water on ‘The Last Dance’ early release rumors,” and “ESPN’s Michael Jordan documentary won’t be released early” based on comments from ESPN EVP of programming acquisitions and scheduling Burke Magnus earlier this week, those seem a bit premature. Magnus didn’t actually say anything to refute AA’s reporting that it’s “likely at this point” that the 10-part documentary series on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls (which has been in the works since 2018) may air before its initially-planned premiere date of June 2, 2020. And ESPN’s release of another The Last Dance promo Thursday that again featured “Coming Soon” at the end rather than the June 2 date further adds to that conversation. Here’s that promo:
ESPN just put out a new promo for The Last Dance. Looks really slick and still says “coming soon" pic.twitter.com/SLJvdVrQnu
— Ben Koo (@bkoo) March 19, 2020
And here’s what Magnus specifically said (to ESPN PR’s Josh Krulewitz) on The Last Dance in a piece published on ESPN Front Row Tuesday:
Overall, any original content project that we can conceivably move up, we are obviously considering that, including films. I know some have asked about The Last Dance and the reality is that the production of that film has not yet been completed, so we are limited there at the moment. Obviously, you can’t air it until it’s done.
So they’re “obviously considering” moving up anything they can, including films. And while Magnus said “the production of that film has not yet been completed,” that’s a long way from “unlikely to be released early” or “won’t be released early,” especially considering that there are almost three months before the planned release date. Again, here’s what AA’s Ben Koo wrote on this Sunday:
What we’re being told is that nothing is 100 percent official and the programming department is looking at various options to deal with this unprecedented situation, and programming changes will be announced when they become final. Behind the scenes, we’re told that The Last Dance is not actually finished, which is very understandable given that it’s a 10-part miniseries that was supposed to have three more months to be completed. What’s most likely is that ESPN is hoping for a finished product sometime this month (maybe this week or next) and will want to air not long after they have a final cut. I get the feeling that they’d prefer to not announce a new airdate until those involved (Director Jason Hehir and ESPN’s Libby Geist and Connor Schell) feel confident in the finished product or are at the one-yard line before formally making an announcement. Sources say that such a move is likely at this point, which echoes the change in the advertising.
Nothing Magnus said Tuesday outright contradicts that. “The production of that film has not yet been completed” doesn’t mean it won’t be completed within a week or a month. And once it is “completed,” it would seemingly make sense for it to fall in the category of “any original content project that we can conceivably move up, we are obviously considering that, including films.”
And the growing numbers of The Last Dance promos featuring “coming soon” would seem to further buttress that theory. If ESPN really doesn’t plan to put this out ahead of June 2, it would seem curious for them to remove that date and insert “coming soon” in a new batch of promos (and to run a new batch of promos at all), as June 2 is a long way from “soon” by most definitions. Maybe the production here won’t be completed for quite a while yet, and even if it is completed, maybe ESPN and ABC won’t actually air this until closer to June; there are questions about just how you roll out a project this massive. But there’s nothing yet definitively saying ESPN won’t move this up at least somewhat, and a whole lot suggesting that they might do just that.
[Ben Koo on Twitter]