Hey, Netflix: Please remake ESPN's fictional drama 'Playmakers'
It has been 13 years since ESPN Original Entertainment's first-ever dramatic series 'Playmakers' debuted its gritty ensemble, chronicling the behind-the-scenes and off-the-field lives of players, families, coaches and the owner of a fictional professional football team.
The Worldwide Leader marketed the groundbreaking television show as something that 'went beyond Sunday's glory, "good guy" endorsements, and super-jock celebrity.'
No, it wasn't the first 'Hard Knocks', in which the only shocking elements we've seen this season are Jeff Fisher's F-bombs and Tavon Austin's PG-13 trash-talk quips. 'Playmakers', in its own right, was the first and only medium to reveal the dark side of sports, the side we never see, even during a time when we can peek inside any athlete's private world thanks to Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and so on.
'Playmakers' had no boundaries -- whether it be showing a running back trudging through a heavy drug addiction, an aging league veteran whose losing battle with father time has affected his marriage, a linebacker with PSTD after paralyzing an opponent with a hard tackle, or a quarterback sucking down anti-inflammatories despite poor health while doctors look the other way. That was just the high-level stuff too.
Watch the first episode's opening scene -- and the drama is already intense.
There's another scene with a player waking up in between two women and realizing, after what appeared to be a long night of partying, he was four hours late on game day.
More ugly scenarios presented themselves and made the show dark and, well, almost gut-wrenching -- uh, how about when players have to align their stories after being involved in a nightclub shooting?
This was 'The Wire', 'Entourage' and 'Hard Knocks' all rolled into one, so needless to say, viewers were captivated. Nobody would condone the behavior being portrayed, but still couldn't look away.
According to a New York Times report, by ESPN's standards, 'Playmakers' was a rousing success, averaging a 1.9 Nielsen rating, or 1.62 million households. Though not good by broadcast standards, such a rating is excellent for ESPN and was the network's highest-rated program except for its Sunday night NFL and Saturday prime-time college football games.
People loved how messy it was, how honest it was.
And the NFL didn't like it.
Then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue complained, and it spawned a year-long argument. ESPN defended its right to show the series and withstood a regular level of criticism from inside the NFL, according to the Times. Ultimately, the network decided that it no longer wanted to keep enraging the league, its biggest cash cow to this day, so it pulled the plug before any work could begin on a second season of shows.
This quote really speaks to the brilliance of the show and its ability to tell stories people figured went on in real life but never got a clear picture of it all:
"We tried our best to do that authentically, and I think we were successful," show writer Peter Egan once said. "From the NFL's perspective, maybe too successful."
Some fictitious sports programs have popped up over the years -- but none like the 11 episodes 'Playmakers' gave us.
Imagine if a show like this tackled the subjects that cast a dark shadow on the NFL today?
Hey, Netflix: get on it.