What's it like to have one of Nolan Ryan's 100 mph fastballs coming at you? How does a high school basketball phenom go about choosing a college from among scores of offers? Those questions, and others, are answered this week as SPORTS ILLUSTRATED goes video. Wednesday, May 26 (8 p.m. Eastern and Pacific Time; 7 Central and Mountain) marks the premiere of a unique new series of prime-time sports programs entitled, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED: A SERIES FOR TELEVISION.
Back in our first issue, Aug. 16, 1954, Publisher H.H.S. Phillips Jr. described in this space why Time Inc. chose to publish a sports magazine. "We always tried to invent new journalistic forms to fill not just a vacuum, but a surging need," Phillips wrote. Now Phillips' idea, which remains very much alive in the magazine after 1,422 issues, is being brought to the airwaves, too. As SI Enterprises Director Tom Ettinger says, "TV covers live events, but it's virtually blind to the beyond-the-event stories SPORTS ILLUSTRATED brings to its audience. We saw a need there and a big opportunity to expand SI's horizons if we could find someone to produce SI-style stories for the air."
That "if" was the key word. The more Ettinger searched, the more he found that proven TV sports producers had spent almost all their time covering events. While checking out West Coast production companies in September 1980, Ettinger dropped in on a couple of old acquaintances, Irwin Rosten, 57, and Nick Noxon, 46, who are executive producers at Ronox, Inc., an Emmy Award-winning outfit whose credits include documentaries on such diverse subjects as Hollywood, sharks and the 38th Parallel. Ronox' 1975 special for the National Geographic Society on the human body, entitled The Incredible Machine, was long the highest-rated program in the history of public TV. "I explained my problem and asked them, 'Who do you know?' " Ettinger says. "Irwin said, 'Hmm.' Six months later Ronox came aboard."
"At the time we knew we were a little shaky on sports background," says Rosten. "But the more we thought about it, the more we saw an opportunity, too." Now, with his first show in the can, Rosten knows he was right. "Nick and I spent 22 years working with scientists and explorers," he says, "but we never ran into any people as eager to stretch themselves to the absolute limits of human capability as athletes."
Wednesday's offering is the first of four SPORTS ILLUSTRATED TV programs scheduled for 1982. Aside from Ryan's heater—which appears in a segment on the art of pitching a baseball—and the young basketball player's dilemma, there is a story about the moving plight of the U.S. women's volleyball team, a film clip of Abbott and Costello's beloved "Who's On First?" routine and a commentary by Senior Writer Frank Deford. "Our aim is to show sports fans their favorite things in a whole new light," Rosten says. "We also want to reach beyond the sports fan and attract people who like a good story."
PRESENTING SI'S NEW TV TANDEM—NOXON AND ROSTEN