Editor’s Note: How does an ESPN program go from idea to pilot to reality? Ron Wechsler, ESPN Vice President for Content Development, gives us a peek at the evolution of SEC: Storied. It’s a new documentary series project for ESPNU debuting Wednesday night at 8 ET. In August, he explained how the SEC documentary idea originated. Here’s Part 2 of Wechsler’s account of how SEC: Storied came to be.
Here we are on premiere night of the new ESPNU documentary series Storied, the first installment of which “Herschel” will focus on the legendary University of Georgia Heisman Trophy winner, Herschel Walker.
After signing off on the series concept with the SEC — but prior to choosing the subject matter — we wanted to commit to a production company.
We wanted one that shared our vision and would be able to tackle a large and varied project like Storied.
One of the benefits to having the Content Development Group oversee 30 for 30 is that we ended up working with a talented and divergent group of filmmakers and companies.
Once such company was NASCAR Media Group (NMG), who produced and directed the 30 for 30 film Tim Richmond: To The Limit.
Not only were we impressed with their work on the film, but Rory Karpf, the Emmy Award-winning director of that doc, had previously worked at NFL Films.
So they were storytellers, had a compelling and diverse resume, and were based in Charlotte, N.C. — headquarters of ESPNU.
With NMG and Karpf fully on board, we then had to line up which subjects we were going to focus on, and quickly, as we only had a few months to get the first film in the can.
Our aim was to come up with a range of topics that would reflect the deep and historic influence the conference has had on college athletics (it’s called Storied, folks!), and we also wanted to make sure we represented the schools equally.
The more we discussed it, the more we thought that a retrospective on Herschel Walker could be the most compelling first film.
He’s arguably the best college football running back ever, one who had the stats to be in contention for three Heisman Trophies, let alone one.
Walker also was an elite track star and competed with sprint legend Carl Lewis (despite outweighing him by 60 pounds.).
Walker left college early, which was not something that was done in the early 1980s, and was the first pick ever to the upstart United States Football League.
After that league shut down, he went on to play in the NFL where, despite the fact that he never lived up to his college glory, he retired ranked in the top 10 in career all-purpose yards.
Today, he is an impossibly fit 49 years old, and is a competitive MMA fighter.
Additionally, there was a very personal aspect of Walker’s story that we wanted to tap into.
He suffers from dissociative intently disorder, and experienced intense bullying as a child. We knew that if he would be open to discussing these topics, it would make for a very compelling doc.
So Karpf reached out to Walker, via his MMA trainer Bob Cook, and a relationship was formed.
Walker was very open to talking about every aspect of his life, the results of which you will see at 8 p.m. ET.
Internally, John Dahl, Robert Abbott, Rosalyn Durant, Arunima Dhar, Chris Turner, Mike Moore and many others helped bring Storied to fruition.
I speak for the entire team when I say this has been a fun project to launch and we look forward to your reactions to the series.