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Full 'Tilt' Boogie

ESPN tackles appointment viewing

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ESPN has a proven formula, right? Sportscenter, football, Sportscenter, poker, Sportscenter, doggy long-jumping… But ”proven” ain’t enough in the TV biz. Growth! New demos! Awards! Having shown its stuff with 2003’s behind-the-football series Playmakers (forced off the air by a grumpy NFL) and the recent Dale Earnhardt biopic 3 (star Barry Pepper got a SAG award nod), ESPN has set its sights on appointment TV. ”We don’t have a lot of sports where they’re coming back every week, same time, same Bat channel,” says exec VP Mark Shapiro. Enter the poker drama Tilt, which debuted Jan. 13 to a strong-for-basic-cable average of 2 million viewers. Not content to cash in its chips while it’s ahead, the net plans upcoming originals like a movie on the life of boxer Jack Johnson and a daily, Access Hollywood-style look at the ”fusion” of sports and entertainment. Slow down, turbo: Is the ”all-sports” net headed the way of once ”all-video” MTV? No way, says Shapiro. ”We can’t get so addicted to it that we become blind.” Dang. We were kinda looking forward to Pimp My Middle Linebacker.