New ESPN sports docs include 'Tonya and Nancy'
The knee whack heard ’round the world will be revisited near the 20th anniversary of the rivalry between Olympic figure skaters Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding, as one of six new documentaries on ESPN’s 30 for 30 series.
The series’ second season begins Oct. 1 with “Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau,” about the big wave surfer and lifeguard.
It wraps up Nov. 5 with “Tonya and Nancy,” a look back at the Jan. 6, 1994, incident in which Kerrigan was clubbed on the knee after practice for the U.S. championships in a plot masterminded by Harding’s ex-husband. The film includes new interviews with Harding and people close to Kerrigan.
ESPN Films Vice President Connor Schell said Wednesday that they’re still trying to persuade Kerrigan to do an interview. She has mostly shunned the spotlight to focus on raising her family.
“Several people close to her have done interviews,” he told the Television Critics Association summer meeting. “We’re still working to get Nancy and hope by November that we do.”
The rest of the series is: “Free Spirits” about the Spirits of St. Louis basketball team airing Oct. 8; “No Mas” about the rivalry between boxers Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran on Oct. 15; “Big Shot” about John Spano’s scam to buy the New York Islanders on Oct. 22; and “This Is What They Want” on Jimmy Connors’ run to the semifinals of the 1991 U.S. Open on Oct. 29.
Former Entourage star and lifelong Islanders fan Kevin Connolly directs and narrates “Big Shot.” It features the only interview Spano has given about being allowed to purchase the NHL team in 1996, even though he had far less resources than he led then-owner John Pickett and the league to believe.
“John Spano wasn’t driven as much by greed and money as he wanted to be able to walk into a room and have people go nuts and want his autograph,” Connolly said. “He wanted to be a star.”
Connolly had to persuade a reluctant Spano to tell his story and at the same time walk a fine line between being a fan of the team and directing the film.
“He knew there were going to be some unpleasant things that were discussed,” said Connolly, who was born and raised on New York’s Long Island.
He rejected Spano’s request to leave certain things out of the film.
“I wouldn’t be doing my job,” Connolly said. “It would be borderline unethical.”
Spano saw the film in April when it premiered at the TriBeCa Film Festival. Connolly said that Spano “denied a couple of things” but didn’t ask the director to edit anything out of the finished product.