Unstoppable Offense Offensive to Some Highlights: Notable

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Consumers will likely face higher pay TV bills because of ESPN‘s MNF extension, but not because of the deal exclusively. The NFL is the marquee sports league in the US, no doubt, but ESPN continues to gobble up other properties like a hot dog-eating contestant as well—just this year there’s been Longhorn Net, the Pac-12 and Wimbledon. I understand why non-sports fans will continue to grumble about the correlative price increases of sports rights and cable subscriptions, but directing the scorn primarily at ESPN is unwarranted. Sure, it’s often a relief to blame the top dogs for perceived inequities in any arena—heck, I’m not particularly fond of the NY Yankees or Google—but 2 points demand mention. First, if ops and programmers alike would work more quickly toward the greater industry good regarding TV Everywhere initiatives (read: get them out there to consumers ASAP), then many more opportunities for monetizing content would emerge. In turn, subs wouldn’t have to carry so much of the cost-covering load. And let’s not forget how forward thinking ESPN has been and continues to be in the digital arena. It arguably leads cable in authentication plays and remains a very strong bet to effectively leverage any new tech that arises going forward. Even NFL commish Roger Goodell said ESPN will be instrumental in bringing football to more platforms. Much of that operational efficiency, of course, stems from ESPN’s enviable growth over the years and leads to point #2. I’m admittedly an unabashed sports fan and would watch hardly any TV at all were it devoid of the genre. Yet I contend even unAmeric—, I mean sports pooh poohers, should recognize the corporate prowess of ESPN. It was a pioneer back when big hair and leg warmers persisted and continues to blaze trails today. If and when those trends return, you can bet ESPN will be there, still providing value to millions. CH

" Bill Belichick: A Football Life, Part I," Thurs, 9p ET, NFL. In perhaps the most ironic and greatest get in sports journalism history, in ’09, the famously taciturn coach Bill Belichick became the 1st person wired for a full season by NFL Films. What results is less important than that it happened at all. Still, some observations: Belicheck is less phlegmatic than his rep and emerges as a decent fellow with an occasional dry wit. Besides the access, what’s most impressive is hearing and watching him dissect an upcoming game. — "The Space Between," Sun, 9p, USA. Part of USA’s public service campaign, this drama is a creative reflection on 9/11, heightened by Melissa Leo‘s performance as a bitter flight attendant. Following that, USA runs the Oscar-winning short doc "Twin Towers." SA

If you’ve ever questioned C-SPAN‘s zeal for serving cable subs, "The Contenders" (Fri, 9pm ET) will remove all doubt. Instead of taping 14 docs about men who lost White House races but greatly influenced history, C-SPAN traverses the country, doing 90-min programs live at 14 historical sites, most off the beaten path. "We’re taking [viewers] places they’ve never been to before. So we want to allow them to interact" with the series, by calling in with questions, says exec prod Mark Farkas. SA

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