Blog Index

"ESPN's 30 for 30 series is as ambitious as anything the network has ever attempted.  Hell, it might well be one of the most ambitious projects in the history of TV" 

Larry Dobrow, Ad Age



“Heroin and painkillers play a larger role than basketball in “Unguarded,” an ESPN documentary on Tuesday night. “I come in here and tell you my nightmare,” the onetime star Chris Herren, long past his glory days, tells a gym full of high school students, and that’s the function of the film as well. Unlike the students, we don’t have to listen to him, but it’s a pretty good story; even if sports aren’t your thing, you might find it worth hanging around the gym for an hour and a half....It’s a highly polished production”

Mike Hale, NY Times TV critic  




Some filmgoers when they hear the word "documentary" think of a movie with talking heads and wouldn't even think about going to see it or watch it on TV.

Throw out all those misconceptions and watch "The Real Rocky" Tuesday night at 8 on ESPN.

Director Jeff Feuerzeig is on his way to becoming one of filmdom's great documentarians. His "Devil and Daniel Johnston" won best documentary at the Sundance Film Festival and he's outdone himself here.

.... it's all fascinating, funny and yes, exciting. It might not have audiences standing up in your seat and cheering as in Stallone's first "Rocky" film, but it's far better and entertaining than at least 90 percent of the sports movies you've seen.

Harvey Zucker, The Jersey Journal


“In many ways, Wepner’s real-life story is actually more captivating than the one that has raked in more than $1 billion”

Boxing Insider




"It sucks you in fiercely, holding you rapt with all sorts of sports minutiae you didn’t even know you cared about. I’m amazed at how Gibney was able to turn a split-second moment of infamy into a captivating 102-minute documentary filled with such highs and lows"

Alexis L. Loinaz, Metro Mix NY

“The wildly entertaining "Catching Hell" is accessible enough to be enjoyed by even those who wouldn't dream of setting foot inside a stadium.  You'll never attend a sporting event in quite the same way after seeing Alex Gibney's alternately hilarious and disturbing documentary about the thin line between sports fandom and mania.”

Frank Scheck, Hollywood Reporter


The best documentaries to come out of what was the ESPN 30 For 30 series and is now just ESPN Films are not necessarily the ones that are pure sports stories. They're the ones that have used sports as a way to look at mass culture, including The Two Escobars, which wove together drugs and soccer, and the outstanding June 17, 1994, which followed the many big sports stories that broke on the same day O.J. Simpson made his famous run in the white Bronco.
 Another perfect example is Catching Hell, an excellent film premiering tonight in which filmmaker Alex Gibney revisits the story of Steve Bartman, the Cubs fan who became Chicago's Public Enemy Number One after being blamed for interfering with a catch and dashing the Cubs' hopes of advancing to the World Series...You really don't have to care about sports to get a lot out of this story about perpetual motion and lack of accountability in mass culture, where absolutely nobody has to mean to be unfair for massive, overwhelming unfairness to take hold to the point where it can literally ruin someone's life. There are moments of great poignancy here.

Linda Holmes, 


"Renee," producer Eric Drath's sober, often distressing and superbly presented documentary on tennis' Renee Richards, the former Dr. Richard Raskind -- a father-turned-mother -- re-airs today at 5 p.m. on ESPN. It's a grabber -- DVR it.

Phil Muschnick, NY Post


 “An early icon for the transgender community, Richards is the subject of Eric Drath’s ESPN documentary playing at the Tribeca Film Festival...

In the mid-1970s, when I covered tennis, Renée Richards was a supremely strange phenomenon as the pro tennis and legal worlds hotly debated the fairness of a “he/she” competing against the likes of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. (Richards later coached Navratilova, helping with a couple of her Wimbledon championships.)

As John McEnroe notes in the film: “I was weirded out just watching her from a distance.”

In the documentary, her scarred son, Nick, describes Richards, who found great loves with women as a man but not men as a woman, as being “at a place in between torment and happiness.”

As Richards herself describes her melancholy odyssey through limbo: “I wanted to be a man or I wanted to be a woman. I didn’t want to be a trans in the middle of something, a third sex or something that’s crazy and freakish and not real.” 

Maureen Dowd, NY Times


JUNE 17TH, 1994 

“Morgen’s documentary, which is easily one of the finest of the “30 for 30” series, is a condemnation of America’s confused value system cleverly disguised as a leisurely trip down memory lane. Its greatest strength is its gracefulness, challenging thoughtful viewers without resorting to didacticism or heavy-handedness. It’s a triumph. 

The documentary, part of ESPN's '30 for 30' series, presents the events of the day. Arnold Palmer at the U.S. Open, O.J. Simpson in a white SUV — on a raw, meditative platform.  But he offers another, more remote perspective; this is not a summing up of events, but rather a meditation, of an elemental sort, not just on sports but on the way of the world.

Robert Lloyd, LA TIMES




In "Guru of Go" — Oscar-winning director Bill Couturié's storytelling pace often matches Westhead's run-and-gun style. He races from scene to scene, jamming exposition, interviews and game footage into a tight 51-minute film. ...LMU's meteoric rise is exhilarating, full of recollections of the freedom the players felt and the rush of knowing they were playing a different game than everybody else. Couturié doesn't get swept away, though; like a savvy lead guard, he knows when to slow things down and let the viewer feel the full weight of what former LMU player Tom Peabody notes is both "a great success story" and "a great tragedy." 


Couturié handles the tragedy of Gathers' death after a sudden cardiac arrest during the West Coast Conference tournament unflinchingly. Interviewees tell the story of Gathers' first on-court collapse in December 1989, as well as the diagnosis of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and the prescription of medication to manage it. They detail Gathers' lackluster homecoming performance against St. Joseph's in Philly, the pressure he felt to succeed and the decision to cut his dosage so that he'd feel less sluggish. 

And they recall his final game, against Portland on March 4, 1990. When Gathers collapses, the talking stops; in Hamlet's last words, "The rest is silence." 

Dan Devine, Yahoo Sports




In "The House of Steinbrenner", Barbara Kopple captures this familial transfer of sports authority with a historian’s sense of scope and a prophet’s sense of consequence. Two months removed from Steinbrenner’s death and less than two years since the Boss officially handed over the reins to his son Hal, these events might be too timely to fully appreciate in the present, but Kopple documents them as if anticipating their future significance, aware that whatever successes or failures the Yankees have over the next 30 years will be traced back to this point. ..    ....

The filmmaking here isn’t flashy, it’s confident, polished. Though not as profoundly edited as June 17, 1994, Kopple’s film mostly avoids voice-over and instead relies on pure observation and interviews with everyone from Hal Steinbrenner to a kid no older than 12 who thoughtfully articulates the historical significance of the Yankees’ relocation to a new stadium. Time and again, Kopple’s interviews reveal a passion for the Yankees and for “old” Yankee Stadium that, as often as not, brings people to tears....

as a snapshot of the most successful franchise in American sports amidst a sea change, it’s noteworthy. And I suspect The House of Steinbrenner will become even more significant as time goes by, when the epic past isn’t so close to the present.

Jason Gideon, The Cooler 





The 38-year-old Muhammad Ali looms before the lens, speaking to it as if it were one of the children who came to his training camp every day to sit rapt in his presence. “Take the film and take exactly what I’m saying,” he tells the camera in soft, singsong tones. “If I get whupped, play it back. Because I’ll be a fool.”

He did get whupped and 39 years later, ESPN is playing it back.  “Muhammad and Larry is potent combination.  Its a sad and frustrating account of Ali’s pummeling at the hands of Larry Holmes, the loss the effectively ended his career.  But its also a freshly opened time capsule, an exciting look at scenes filmed in preparation for the fight that have not be seen outside of a few film festivals....The best sports films tend to be about loss, even when they portray winners...  Muhammad and Larry maintains the series excellence so far.  

Mike Hale, NY Times TV critic

 "Maysles refuses to take a simple good-and-bad approach, showing us Ali's misplaced cockiness and unpleasant attitude in one scene and then, in the next, reminding us of his greatness, as a black casino employee explains his decision to bet on Ali even though he doesn't think he'll win because "he gave me my dignity".  Coming almost at the end of the film, there's a moment of terrible sadness:  in the locker room after the fight, Howard Cosell, interviewing a teary-eyed Holmes -- who knows exactly what he's done and what it means -- does what he did best, asking completely unnecessary questions.  "I want you to explan why you've been crying," intones Cosell.  A better question:  after seeing all that, who wouldn't be?   Rating:  A”

Leonard Pierce, TV Club



"... superb one-hour take on the rise and colossal fall of Jimmy The Greek Snyder"

Phil Mushnick, NY POST





“There is pain at the heart of Black Magic..the delicious basketball scenes are an escape, but Black Magic’s lasting impact comes not from Earl the Pearl undressing defenders.  It comes from the blunt force of injustice and a time that never should be forgotten”


Sports Illustrated






“... the 50 profiles stand as ESPN’S most creative work in its 20 year history..They’re packed with surprises, distinguished by balance and enterprise in finding people who are not the usual interview suspects, and made memorable by a sensual visual style”


Richard Sandomir, NY Times  Dec. 2000 





“There are no weaknesses in this well-woven fabric of reporting, interviews and archival footage...the subject merits 120 minutes but “Breaking the Line: Jackie Robinson’s Legacy on ESPN tonight is only an hour long.  That is its sole flaw”


Richard Sandomir, NY Sunday Times, Feb 1997



“If there is any doubt about where the best sports journalism on television is being practised these days, tonight episode of “Outside the Lines” should settle the issue once and for all”  


Leonard Shapiro, Washington Post,  Feb. 1997







“....a spirited biography created and directed by Mark Durand, one of the early creative geniuses behind television’s This Week in Baseball and a force behind the NBC Special The Game and Its Glory.  From the opening moments to the closing credits The Legend of Stan the Man Musial is absolutely top shelf”



“In the mood for an old fashioned, heart warming sports story?  Like to celebrate a true  American hero, a Hall of Famers who has been married to the same woman for 52 years... Then head to your video store and ask for The Legend of Stand the Man Musial” 


Bob Ryan, Boston Globe, 1991






“This Week in Baseball has suddenly become the most talked about sports program on television...its sports entertainment at its finest and considering the conditions the producers work under, its almost miraculous”


John Moore, New Orleans Times-Picayune, July 1977



“...a booming success”


Howard Smith, AP  June 1977



“Its a delightful television program...”We are up all night” said Mark Durand who writes Mel Allen’s script.  “Around 4am we start getting punchy, laughing hysterically.  We’re always desperate....  Basically its a lot of fun”


Joe LaPointe, Detroit Free Press



“The best written show in television”


James Brenig, nationally syndicated TV critic  1979