You’ll Want to Stay Until the Very End of ESPN’s ‘The Last Dance’
The NBA season is suspended, Major League Baseball’s opening day is on hold, and top golf and tennis tournaments have been canceled. Since mid-March, sports fans have been itching for a fix. They finally got one with the premiere of ESPN’s The Last Dance, a documentary series delving into the history of basketball great Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
The 10-parter — which is setting ratings records — gives an unprecedented look at the making of a dynasty. It offers exclusive interviews and behind-the-scenes footage from the team’s 1997–98 final championship season as well as the high school and college careers of Jordan and several teammates.
In fact, Dance is the most watched doc in ESPN history. The first two episodes, which aired April 19, averaged 6.1 million viewers; Episodes 3 and 4 on April 26 were also a slam dunk, with an average of 5.9 million. (The network’s next biggest doc, You Don’t Know Bo, about football and baseball star Bo Jackson, pulled in 3.6 million viewers in 2012.)
The biggest draw is, of course, Jordan, who gave total access then and now. Though he retired in 2003, the Hall of Famer “remains a fascinating character to so many sports fans,” says John Dahl, VP and exec producer, ESPN Special Projects, Films & Original Content.
The country’s stay-at-home situation has been a boost for the series, which was moved up from June. Dahl acknowledges: “The hunger for this kind of content is even stronger [now] because of the pandemic.” (Dance also streams on Netflix in July.) He promises more drama and insight through the May 17 finale: “You’ll want to stay to hear Jordan’s thoughts on how exactly the Bulls dynasty ended.”
Football fans also got a preseason gift when the NFL Draft was held on schedule April 23–25. The annual recruitment went virtual, with prospective players on camera from their homes and commissioner Roger Goodell (below) announcing selections from his Westchester County, New York, basement. The first night, which aired across ABC, ESPN, NFL Network and ESPN Deportes, drew a collective 15.6 million viewers, beating 12.4 million for Night 1 in 2014.
Now if only fans were allowed to go outside and tailgate.
The Last Dance, Sundays, ESPN