Will NBA Great LeBron James’ TV Special Score With Viewers?

by | July 8, 2010 at 1:45 PM | TV News

LeBron James (Photo: Feng Li/Getty Images)

LeBron James (Photo: Feng Li/Getty Images)

It’s the Lebron James “results” show!

It does kind of sound like ‘American Idol,’ doesn’t it? An hour-long show planned ostensibly for the sole purpose of delivering an announcement that, in essence, takes around five seconds to make.

On ‘Idol,’ they wait ’til the final moments of each results shows to tell you who’s getting booted off. But that’s where Thursday night’s Lebron James ESPN special – titled ‘The Decision’ and scheduled to air live from Greenwich, Conn., at 9/8c – diverges from the “AI” model.

Apparently, the producers of ‘The Decision’ are not as interested as their ‘Idol’ counterparts in building suspense for 60 minutes. Instead, ESPN execs have promised that James will make the “historic” announcement of where he intends to spend the next couple of seasons playing basketball (and raking in megabucks) in “the first 10 or 15 minutes” of the show. And at that point, this “special” will likely lose half its audience, which some estimate to total perhaps 20 million viewers.

For those who don’t tune out, the rest of the hour will be filled with commentary and interviews, including at least two debriefings of James himself: One right after he makes his announcement (with ESPN freelancer Jim Gray) and then an “in-depth” interview with ESPN analyst Michael Wilbon. How these interviews will fill an hour – and more importantly, remain interesting for all that time – remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, this Lebron James telecast is emerging as one of the most unusual ever staged – an hour of airtime on a major TV network basically turned over to a sports celebrity to announce a new business deal that will make him a fortune.

It is unprecedented. The closest any other TV event has ever come was last February’s Tiger Woods “news conference” – which wasn’t really a conference and didn’t really produce any news. It consisted basically of Tiger reading a carefully prepared statement about his sex scandal and all the fallout that followed. He then apologized.

The Tiger and Lebron shows differ in the details, however. The “Tiger Woods Show” aired on a Friday morning, lasted all of 15 minutes, and was carried live on 14 networks.

“The Decision,” starring Lebron James, will last a full hour and air on just one network. Unlike Tiger Woods, Lebron got a prime-time slot. And, of course, Lebron has not been involved in any scandals and disgraced himself publicly like Tiger Woods.

In fact, James mandated that any ads sold against his hour-long special be donated to the Boys & Girls Club of America – a concession ESPN would have been remiss not to allow.

Still, the lingering question is: Should TV be turning over so much airtime to these self-serving millionaire athletes?