Espn Deals Out `The Deuce' To Entice America's Younger, Hipper Sports Fan

Keith Olbermann: "Remember our motto. We're going to put our hearts and souls into this."

Suzy Kolber: "But we think it's going to work anyway."

Mark the time and date: 4:30 p.m. PDT, Friday, Oct. 1. That's when Keith Olbermann and Suzy Kolber open ESPN2, envisioned by its founders as an upbeat, slightly irreverent, often whacky cousin to the all-sports standby, ESPN.

Part news, part rock 'n' roll. Part games, part lunacy. Part events, part hip-hop jock talk. It's aimed at a younger, hipper audience.

"We didn't just want to put out 48 hours of ESPN every day," ESPN president Steve Bornstein said.

If the previews are indicative, it won't be.

The linchpin of the new network, known as "The Deuce," will be the three-hour, four-night-a-week "SportsNight," co-anchored by Olbermann and Kolber, and described by Olbermann as, "full of of sports news, sports talk, sports experts, sports comedy, sports culture, sports entertainment, sports everything."

It sounds like a combination sports news-variety show with some schtick thrown in.

In addition to "SportsNight," The Deuce will feature "Talk2," a late-night talk show with West Coast radio personality Jim Rome; twice-hourly sports updates called "SportSmash"; early morning boxscores set to music, a sort of MTV by the numbers; various buxom and bulging-biceped exercise shows, and sports game shows.

Its live event coverage will feature hockey and college basketball, as well as a lot of what have become known as extreme sports: surfing, motocross, kayaking, water skiing, rock climbing, snowboarding. All those things the kids are doing, or wish they were doing.

From the promotional material, it's apparent ESPN2 will live in the fast lane, and, in it, the producers have found a lot of violent moments in sports, like car crashes, skiing wipeouts, hockey brawls and bloody boxing mouthpieces flying.

"I think you force power," comedian Richard Lewis says in a promotional spot. "What's that? Einstein or ESPN2? ESPN2. I live for it."

ESPN2, an ABC-Capital Cities Inc., subsidiary, will be seen in more than 225 of ESPN's affiliates on a rollout basis, meaning stations will start with a certain percentage of the network's 24 hours of programming and gradually increase it. ESPN hopes to be in about 9 million homes at launch, compared with the 61.7 million homes in which ESPN is seen.

Bornstein said ESPN2 was born of several factors.

"Unlike the newspaper business, I can't just increase the number of pages when I get additional inventory," he said. "And what's happening is that we're way over the maximum at ESPN. We really felt ESPN already was a service and a half, and we've still got a lot of other programming formats we'd like to develop."

At the same time, Bornstein said, the young people ESPN2 is trying to reach "form a very valuable demographic group to advertisers," and "demographics gave us the opportunity to differentiate the two services."

Bornstein said the chance to develop new programs, especially "SportsNight," was a driving factor behind the formation of ESPN2.

"That goes back several years now. `SportsNight' was one of our original ideas for ESPN2," he said.

Bornstein said the award-winning ESPN staple, "SportsCenter," has become so stylized and is too short, at a half hour, "to develop the format the way we'd like."

"Another example is quiz shows. We've never been able to develop this format on ESPN the way we'd like because we don't have the time slot those programs typically require," he said.

"A third example is our version of Larry King, `Talk 2.' We didn't have the consistency in our schedule. Now, we have five nights a week from 10:30 to 11:30 with Jim Rome. That's a format that lends itself very well to sports."

The talk and quiz show formats also are two tried-and-true entertainment programming formats that require very little adaptation to fit the sports category.

Bornstein promises there will be little duplication of programming on the two networks.

"There might be an occasion where we have two events live simultaneously, so we'll televise both of them live, one on ESPN, the other on The Deuce," he said. "At some point, then, we might repeat one on the other network, but that'll be the exception to the rule."

ESPN2 goes on the air 14 years and 24 days after ESPN's debut on Sept. 7, 1979. ESPN has come a long way since then, reaching full maturity four years ago when it made deals with major-league baseball and the NFL.

"The initial NFL contract was a very big operation for us, getting all those cable operators to support us," Bornstein said. "And launching major-league baseball in 1990, and what we had to go through for all those games.

"But both pale in comparison to launching ESPN2, the last, new basic cable network for the forseeable future."


For the first time, CBS has entered into an agreement with an independent distributor, GGP, to produce programs for national syndication. Under terms of the agreement, CBS will produce a eight pre-Olympic programs leading up to its coverage of the 1994 Games at Lillehammer, Norway.

CBS Sports president Neal Pilson called it "an exciting new business opportunity" for CBS and indicated the network would experiment with other types of syndication projects in the future.

-- Larry Holmes is at it again on USA Network. On Tuesday, he'll fight Jose Ribalta at Casino Magic in Bay St. Louis, Mo. In the past several years, Holmes has been the most successful draw on "USA Tuesday Night Fights."

After he knocked out Paul Poirier in the seventh round May 18, Holmes said: "This was probably my last fight."

"If you believe that," USA Network announcer Al Albert said, "I have some land in the Bayou to sell you."