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Sports programs for casual viewers


Earlier this month, HBO announced that its long-running newsmagazine “Real Sports” would end after this season. Canceled this month too: HBO “Time to Win” Scripted series about the transformation of the LA Lakers in the 1980s under Jerry Buss’ PT Barnum-like ownership.

When it comes to sports, HBO is moving away from long-form journalism and scripted efforts and instead adding a sports layer to its streaming platform. For an extra $9.99 per month, Max subscribers will get access to professional basketball, baseball and hockey games, as well as the NCAA March Madness tournament.

I have no doubt that this is a worthwhile expense for fans interested in specific leagues or teams. But it also seems like HBO is abandoning casual sports viewers, and HBO isn’t alone in that.

I wondered how a show like “Real Sports” managed to stay around for so long. Hard-boiled and unsophisticated, “60 Minutes”-style reporting has felt stale for the better part of 29 years. Recently there was an episode about dogs and sports. I watch anything related to dogs. It felt like the show had really run out of gas, though, ending with host Bryant Gumbel and the show reporters sitting in the studio with their dogs and awkwardly talking about why they love dogs. Their flamboyant back-and-forth movements had the sound of aliens trying to imitate human speech. So no, I won’t shed a single tear for the end of “Real Sports.”

However, it was one of the last demonstrations to gain recognition for the sport. stories It is challenging. And it was aimed at a broad audience rather than hardcore fans looking for endless experts.

Is there anything left to watch for a generalist like me who doesn’t follow any leagues or teams but enjoys a good story? I can’t talk about the statistics, but I can relate to the complexities and stakes of a sports drama because they are metaphors for what it means to navigate life. Also: The training montage is a beloved trope, starting with “Rocky.” Are younger generations familiar with this?

These are bleak times. Mid-budget films have nearly disappeared from theaters, taking sports movies with them, but they were once staples. From “Bad News Bears” to “North Dallas Forty” to “Slap Shot,” the ’70s didn’t bother with pretension. The ’80s and ’90s were defined by comedies like “Major League,” “Necessary Roughness” and “Rookie of the Year” and tear-jerkers from “Hoosiers” to “Rudy” that even the most patient viewer couldn’t resist. To “Chariots of Fire.” I can’t tell you how many times I watched “The Cutting Edge” on cable TV during the ’90s alone.

There were fewer sports movies being made in the 2000s, but they were still being released: “Remember the Titans,” “Bend It Like Beckham,” “The Wrestler,” “Moneyball.”

This number has decreased even more in recent years. There was that boring Adam Sandler Netflix vehicle “Rush,” The story of a professional scout who recruited a young basketball player from Spain. Less said about Hulu “White Men Can’t Jump” remake, better.

From left to right: Solomon Hughes and Quincy Isaiah as Kareem and Magic in a scene from “Winning Time.”

On the TV side, the situation is not very promising. “Ted Lasso” It is the rare outlier that reaches critical mass. Otherwise, the shows have struggled to attract sizable interest or audiences. Despite the NBA’s popularity as a league and its focus on star players like Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, “Winning Time” failed to garner enough viewers to sustain it after its second season. Great on Apple TV+ “Feint,” Although it had much in common with the TV adaptation of “Friday Night Lights,” about teenage basketball hopefuls that was thematically successful enough to bring it into the spotlight just a generation ago, it never managed to reach a wider audience. Profiles of all the stars, including Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton, as well as younger members of the cast, including Jesse Plemons and Taylor Kitsch.

I’ll never forget Fox canceling “Pitch,” starring Kylie Bunbury as a female major leagues pitcher and the push-pull sexual tension between her and the team’s catcher, played by Mark-Paul Gosselaar. The show only aired for half a season in 2016 before the network decided to move on. To this day I see people lamenting the loss of this show.

I have high hopes for the new Netflix movie “Nyad,” starring Annette Bening as sports reporter and athlete Diana Nyad, who tries to swim from Cuba to Florida. There’s also director Taika Waititi’s movie “Next Target Wins,” which will be released in November.

There’s never a bad time to discover or revisit old movies. Max recently sent out an email promoting his selection of sports movies, including the 2013 Jackie Robinson biopic “42,” starring Chadwick Boseman. But studios and networks can’t rely solely on library books. You should make new shows and movies, especially ones that reflect our world as it is today.

From left to right: Susan Sarandon and Kevin Costner, 1988s "Bull Durham."

It’s too bad Kevin Costner got caught up in the vortex of “Yellowstone,” because when he teamed up with writer-director Ron Shelton, they came up with something wonderfully messy about athletes who aren’t stars but aren’t quite ready to let go. yet their dreams too. In real life, some athletes find interesting second careers. Baseball Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. study as a sideline photographer at an NFL game over the weekend. Former pitcher Randy Johnson did this Same. It’s an interesting professional transition, and I would definitely watch a fictionalized account of it.

What I’m angry about – and this sounds like such a harsh word but here we are – is that sports have become so silent through streaming that you have to search for what you want and therefore rarely stumble upon something by accident. That was the genius behind ABC’s “Wide World of Sports”; The excitement of victory, the pain of defeat! – because you can tune in any weekend and find yourself watching a track and field meet, or ski jumping, or cliff diving, or… logrolling? Yes, I am recording as part of the Lumberjack World Championship.

Will viewers bookmark their schedules to watch more of these events? Probably not. But what if it was there when you turned on the TV?

You would watch. Oh, you would watch.

Nina Metz is a Tribune critic.



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