Barring the sudden appearance of an as-yet undetectable sleeper hit showing up somewhere else, ESPN’s Michael Jordan documentary “The Last Dance” could be in position to become TV's biggest hit this summer.
That's because this 10-part documentary miniseries will become available on Netflix starting July 19, according to an advisory I received from the Netflix press department this week.
This saga of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls leaped into public prominence almost the minute it premiered on April 19 on ESPN.
It was nothing if not timely. After close to a month in COVID-19 lockdown, sports TV audiences were starving for something original to watch in the absence of live sports.
And the live sports they were likely missing most was basketball. If not for the pandemic, the April 19 premiere date of “The Last Dance” would have come just days after the NBA would have normally wrapped up its regular season.
Days later, it would have started its playoff season, which ordinarily runs from mid-April to mid- or late June.
Instead, NBA games ceased in mid-March. The NCAA basketball playoffs -- aka March Madness -- were also benched.
Into the breach came Michael Jordan, and with him, memories of the NBA in the 1990s, an era that for many of us represents some of the best professional basketball any of us ever saw.
Considering the timing of this documentary's arrival, its 10-hour, 10-part length was one of its most attractive features.
Perhaps at some other time, 10 episodes of a basketball documentary might have seemed a little too much to some. But in the era of little else to do, 10 episodes of something new to watch was a godsend.
The absence of live sports also allowed room -- as measured in TV and radio airtime, and column inches in print and online -- for plenty of reportage and chatter about the miniseries.
Sports-talk radio debated it from all angles. And stories came out one after another about how various figures in the documentary came across, with some reacting publicly.
One evening while watching one of the episodes, for example, a portion of the show was devoted to Jordan's apparently bitter rivalry with Isaiah Thomas.
I must have not been paying close enough attention because at one point, I thought I heard Jordan, in a present-day interview, casually reveal that he “hates” Thomas, and I was unsure if I heard it correctly.
If memory serves, “The Last Dance” first aired on ESPN over five consecutive Sunday evenings -- two episodes per night.
Its success seemed to spring primarily from word-of-mouth and, before long, ABC was repurposing the series for its own use too.
Netflix, it turns out, was a co-production partner on the series with ESPN. So, plans were in place all along for the series to turn up eventually on the streaming service. In fact, it has been available on Netflix internationally since April.
Although “The Last Dance” has already circulated widely on ESPN, ABC and related platforms, it will likely still attract strong viewership on Netflix in a few weeks.
Some will be repeat viewers, and others will be new to this “Dance” party. Still others will watch to answer questions they might still have about the show, such as: Did I really just hear Michael Jordan say he “hates” Isaiah Thomas?