ESPN moves up release of anticipated Bulls documentary

ESPN has moved up the release date for its highly anticipated 10-part documentary series The Last Dance from June to a new start of April 19 due to widespread viewer demand amid the ongoing sports hiatus.

The documentary project, chronicling the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls team that would be the sixth National Basketball Association championship for the squad and star Michael Jordan’s last season there, had already been on the watch lists for many viewers prior to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

But once every major pro and college property suspended games due to the public health crisis, fan outcry to see the ambitious project quickly grew.

Burke Magnus, ESPN executive vice president of programming, acquisitions, and scheduling, said two weeks ago that a schedule shift wasn’t in the offing and that the network wouldn’t and couldn’t air something that wasn’t finished.

“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,” Magnus said then. “Obviously you can’t air until it’s done.”

But over the past fortnight, consumer demand has continued to grow, particularly as Covid-19 cases have accelerated and stay-at-home orders have spread around the US.

“As society navigates this time without live sports, viewers are still looking to the sports world to escape and enjoy a collective experience,” ESPN said in a statement. “We’ve heard the calls from fans asking us to move up the release date for this series, and we’re happy to announce that we’ve been able to accelerate the production schedule to do just that. This project celebrates one of the greatest players and dynasties ever, and we hope it can service as a unifying entertainment experience to fill the role that sports often play in our lives.”

The series will air on ESPN in the US, with new episodes running each Sunday through May 17 domestically. Netflix holds the international rights to The Last Dance, and new episodes will debut there a day after each week’s US releases on ESPN.

The project is being produced by Mandalay Sports Media, in association with NBA Entertainment and Jordan’s Jump 23. Jason Hehir, whose credits include a highly acclaimed project on pro wrestler Andre the Giant, directs.