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07/07/2018    

07/07

30 for 30

30 for 30 is the umbrella title for a series of documentary films airing on ESPN, its sister networks, and online highlighting interesting people and events in sports history. This includes three "volumes" of 30 episodes each, a 13-episode series under the ESPN Films Presents title in 2011-2012, and a series of 30 for 30 Shorts shown through the ESPN.com website. The series has also expanded to include Soccer Stories, which aired in advance of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and audio podcasts.

Background

The idea for the series began in 2007 from ESPN.com columnist and Grantland.com founder Bill Simmons and ESPN's Connor Schell. The title, 30 for 30, derived from the series' genesis as 30 films in celebration of ESPN's 30th anniversary, with an exploration of the biggest stories from ESPN's first 30 years on-air, through a series of 30 one-hour films by 30 filmmakers. Volume I premiered in October 2009 and ran through December 2010, chronicling 30 stories from the "ESPN era", beginning with the network's founding in 1979. Each film in Volume I details a striking sports issue or event that occurred during those three decades, including what Simmons describes as "stories that resonated at the time [they occurred] but were eventually forgotten for whatever reason." Subsequent films, including Volume II and online-only shorts, expanded the series beyond the "ESPN era".

In September 2014, Schell said, "Even though we have been at this for five years now, there is no shortage of incredible moments from the world of sports, so that enables us to continue making 30 for 30 films we're proud of." In 2010, John Dahl, Connor Schell and Simmons served as 30 for 30's executive producers. In April 2018, it was announced that the entire archive of 30 for 30 films and shorts would be available on ESPN+, ESPN's direct-to-consumer online platform, once the service launched on April 12, 2018.

Volume I

Unless otherwise noted, the following films are all 60 minutes in length (including commercials).

ESPN Films Presents

Other films were previously announced for Volume I of the series but were not included. These films, which began airing in 2011, are a continuation of 30 for 30, dealing with more sports stories that 30 for 30 did not cover. According to 30 for 30 producer Bill Simmons, "We're spinning off the 30 for 30 series next year into something that will probably be called 30 for 30 Presents or something like that... So even though the SMU doc will be the 30th one (right after the Heisman ceremony) don't think the spirit of the series is going away." These additional films include:

Volume III

In September 2015, it was announced that 30 for 30 would return for a third volume of 30 films, beginning in October 2015.

O.J.: Made in America

O.J.: Made in America, which was directed by Ezra Edelman, was billed as a "mini-series event" in the 30 for 30 series. The five-part documentary series examines the life of O. J. Simpson, as well as the broader issues of race and celebrity in the United States as it pertained to Simpson's 1995 criminal trial for the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her acquaintance, Ronald Lyle Goldman. Made in America also focuses on other aspects in Simpson's life, including his success on the football field, his celebrity away from the gridiron, and his later conviction and imprisonment in a robbery case. Part 1 aired on June 11, 2016, with Parts 2-5 airing on June 14, 15, 17 and 18, respectively.

The series received week-long theatrical releases in Los Angeles County and New York City before being broadcast, qualifying it for Oscar consideration. It ultimately received the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature at the 89th Academy Awards.

30 for 30 Shorts

30 for 30 Shorts are short films that have been featured on the 30 for 30 website as well as the now-defunct Grantland.com website; they have also been featured on ESPN or its related networks, either on 30 for 30 compilation shows or on SportsCenter.

30 for 30: Soccer Stories

On January 11, 2014, it was announced that a soccer-only 30 for 30 series, featuring two-feature-length films and six 30-minute films, would be aired in April 2014, featuring "compelling narratives from around the international soccer landscape". Additionally, a 10-part vignette series, titled CoraƧao, about Brazil's rich history, aired during ESPN's 2014 FIFA World Cup coverage.

30 for 30 Podcasts

On September 7, 2016, it was announced that ESPN Films and ESPN Audio would produce 30 for 30 Podcasts, reporting on new sports stories using a narrative podcasting approach. The series will launch in June 2017. The 30 for 30 theme music was re-worked for the podcast series by Hrishikesh Hirway, who is a musician, composer and the host of the Song Exploder podcast. The first season was produced and hosted by Jody Avirgan and a team of in-house producers, with future episodes "to be done in collaboration with outside reporters, documentarians, and ESPN talent."

Critical and ratings response

The series had a slow beginning. The first film, Peter Berg's Kings Ransom, a chronicle of Wayne Gretzky's trade from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings, premiered on October 6, 2009, to poor ratings. Kings Ransom drew a 0.5 national rating and a total viewership of 645,000.

As awareness and critical acclaim grew, the viewing audience also grew. By the seventh episode, The U, the audience had grown to a 1.8 rating and well over 2 million viewers. The A.V. Club review for the eighth entry, Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks, called it "the most hotly anticipated [of the first eight]" and stated that "it more than lived up to the hype."

The A.V. Club has given positive and negative reviews for different episodes in the series, with notable critical reviews of the three Volume I episodes that had involvement by the media production arms of Major League Baseball (Four Days in October), the NBA (Once Brothers) and NASCAR (Tim Richmond: To the Limit).

Sponsors

Cadillac and Levi's are the presenting sponsors of the series. The Cadillac name appears on the 30 for 30 logo, while the Levi's "go forth" slogan appears on the bottom corner of the screen during the directors interstitial comments, which appear for 45 seconds at the beginning of each film and 30 seconds at the end. Commercials for both companies were shown during every intermission during the original air dates, with Levi's guaranteed a 60-second commercial slot at the beginning of the third act. Cadillac replaced Honda as a primary sponsor; during its time as a contributor, Honda aired parts of its "Dream the Impossible" documentary series in the first commercial break.

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