After setting a record with its April 19 debut as the most-viewed documentary content for ESPN, “The Last Dance” continues with the third and fourth episodes tonight at 9 ET on ESPN (TV-MA) and ESPN2 (TV-14-L).
Front Row recently caught up with Vice President and Executive Producer, ESPN Special Projects, Films & Original Content, John Dahl. He discusses working on the project and his years-long connection to his fellow University of North Carolina grad Michael Jordan; a freshman in 1982, Dahl interviewed then-sophomore Jordan as a reporter with the Chapel Hill (N.C.) Newspaper.
Tell us about covering Jordan in college.
Michael was one year ahead of me at UNC and ended up graduating with my class after turning pro a year early. As a freshman, I wrote for the Chapel Hill town newspaper. My first assignment of the basketball season was to do a one-on-one interview with him to talk about his championship-winning shot against Georgetown the year before (see slideshow). I wrote a big feature from that interview and continued to cover him and the team for two years, including his final college season when I was a production assistant for the Tar Heel Sports Network.
There’s a better understanding of what it took for Michael Jordan and the Bulls to not just get past their bitter rival – the Detroit Pistons – but to later incorporate a former nemesis from that team – the unpredictable Dennis Rodman . . . ” – John Dahl regarding Episodes 3 and 4
How does working on a 10-part series differ from everything else?
I liken it to the difference between a sprint and a marathon. It’s a much different storytelling pace. The director of “The Last Dance” – Jason Hehir – has done an outstanding job of building the series around the Bulls’ final championship season of 1997-98 while exploring the past. That final season is the backbone of the series, but threaded throughout each episode are several storylines about Michael Jordan, the key supporting characters, and their previous championships. Past and present are far apart when it all begins, but by the concluding episode, they essentially become one and the same.
What are some of the challenges and benefits of having 10 hours to tell a story of this magnitude?
The biggest challenge relates to how the series is constructed. Each episode is self-contained and has to fit the same one-hour length while connecting the dots and compelling people to keep watching. The greatest benefit, though, is having the ability to really dive deep into the narrative and create something that can stand the test of time.
What excites you most about the third and fourth episodes airing this weekend – without giving too much away?
There’s a better understanding of what it took for Michael Jordan and the Bulls to not just get past their bitter rival – the Detroit Pistons – but to later incorporate a former nemesis from that team – the unpredictable Dennis Rodman – into their own culture and make it work.
Jay Jay Nesheim contributed to this post.
Read more about Dahl’s North Carolina days, Michael Jordan and “The Last Dance” in this recent interview with the Charlotte Observer.