CHICAGO — Like Michael Jordan and the 1997-98 Bulls, ESPN’s “The Last Dance” apparently cannot be held back.
Years in the making and originally scheduled to launch in June in conjunction with the 2020 NBA Finals, the long-awaited 10-part documentary about the Jordan-led team’s pursuit of its sixth and final championship instead will run on five successive Sunday nights beginning April 19, ESPN announced Tuesday.
Episodes will make their debut in pairs weekly, beginning at 8 p.m. CT, through May 17.
“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 serve as a unifying entertainment experience to fill the role that sports often play in our lives, telling a story that will captivate everyone, not just sports fans.”
The scheduling change, which fans lobbied for via social media, comes as the coronavirus pandemic has millions of people homebound and looking to TV for diversion in the absence of live sports.
Promos for the series had changed earlier in March to say “The Last Dance” was “coming soon” rather than “coming in June,” despite ESPN publicly downplaying expectations.
This naturally stoked speculation ESPN would expedite the documentary series combining behind-the-scenes video and interviews with not only Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Steve Kerr, Phil Jackson and other principals, but also other NBA stars and peripheral figures such as former President Barack Obama.
ESPN indicated in mid-March that such a move would be far easier said than done.
For one thing, ESPN has multiple partners on the project, including Jordan’s Jump 23, NBA Entertainment and Mandalay Sports Media, along with Netflix, which will distribute the series internationally beginning April 20. Also, the miniseries wasn’t finished.
“Overall, any original content project that we can conceivably move up, we are obviously considering that, including films,” said Burke Magnus, ESPN’s executive vice president of programming, acquisitions and scheduling.
“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.”
“The Last Dance” is directed by Jason Hehir, whose well-received documentaries include “Andre the Giant,” “The ’85 Bears” and “The Fab Five.”
“Michael Jordan and the ’90s Bulls weren’t just sports superstars, they were a global phenomenon,” Hehir said in a statement. “Making ‘The Last Dance’ was an incredible opportunity to explore the extraordinary impact of one man and one team.
“For nearly three years, we searched far and wide to present the definitive story of an era-defining dynasty and to present these sports heroes as humans. I hope viewers enjoy watching our series as much as we enjoyed the opportunity to make it.”