Imagine if you combined ESPN’s game of the week with your favorite “Saturday Night Live” skit. That gives you an idea of what to expect from the second season of “The 5th Quarter,” premiering on Verizon Media’s go90 platform Thursday.
The comedy parody series chronicles “the greatest untold and untrue stories in sports history,” with emphasis on the word “untrue.”
Where else would you find top NBA stars such as Blake Griffin and DeMarcus Cousins joining forces with Hollywood stars like George Lopez and Bella Thorne, and having ESPN analysts Kenny Mayne and Michelle Beadle offering their commentary on the action? Season 2 opens with “Born to Walk,” the story of underdog Sheldon King’s climb to Olympic Gold and the development of the fiercest rivalry the sport of Men’s Race-Walking has ever seen. The episode stars Griffin as Sheldon King and Jimmy O. Yang (“Silicon Valley”) as his nemesis, Jimmy Kong.
“It’s obviously always been a dream to play a competitive race walker,” Griffin joked at the Season 2 premiere screening Wednesday night. At least we think he was joking …
“As athletes, you kind of get pigeon-holed into playing yourself a lot — just doing a cameo or very serious commercials, so it was great to poke fun at the world of sports,” the L.A. Clippers power forward said. “I always jump at these opportunities, the crazier they are, the more I am down for it. Right now, my main job is basketball and that’s all I am focused on but this is something fun to do in the off-season.
While he is best known for dropping dunks at the Staples Center, “The 5th Quarter” wasn’t actually Griffin’s first foray into comedy. “I did improv three or four years with a couple of my friends in the scene, then decided to go to the Montreal Comedy Festival and do some stand up there,” he told TheWrap.
“It was far scarier than my first NBA game — I’ve done basketball all my life and it’s second nature but doing the comedy stuff on stage was terrifying,” the five-time NBA All-Star added.
Now he’s gotten his feet wet with sketch comedy, Griffin would love to follow in the footsteps of fellow athletes like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and LeBron James by hosting “SNL.”
“I am a huge ‘Saturday Night Live’ fan, I’ve watched every episode over the last 20 or 30 years. I would absolutely love to host it,” he said. Did you hear that, Lorne Michaels?
Griffin got recruited by “The 5th Quarter” after being cold-called by producer Michael D. Ratner to appear on the first season.
“All of these stories are rooted in reality,” Ratner told TheWrap. “The pilot episode of Season 1 is basically the Danny Almonte story — an older kid who comes over from the Dominican Republic and is told to play baseball with younger kids in the Little League World Series,” he explained.
“So then we were like, why don’t we have Blake Griffin play a 28-year-old man whose crooked uncle tells him to play in the Under-13 league? I think the really fun thing about this series is that there is probably a famous sports story out there that has a lot of the same blueprint, but we just take it off in a really different direction.”
Ratner’s OBB Pictures produced “The 5th Quarter” in partnership with 3 Arts Entertainment, and executive producers Jason Berger and Amy Laslett with Kids at Play. Season 2 premieres on go90 Thursday, with Season 3 rolling out in January 2018.
Watch the trailer for Season 2 above and read TheWrap’s interview with Ratner below.
TheWrap: How did you come up with the concept for “The 5th Quarter”?
Michael D. Ratner: I got the inspiration when I was directing and producing a “30 for 30” film for ESPN on Hunter S. Thompson’s trip to the Kentucky Derby in 1970 called “Gonzo at the Derby,” which was narrated by Sean Penn.
It is the craziest story and is just wild. It was the start of Gonzo journalism and was a historical moment as was the first time Ralph Steadman and Thompson met. I thought that there was such a rich opportunity to merge sports and comedy if you were to take it a little bit lighter. While “30 for 30” is one of my favorite series, I was able to flip it on its head with a fictional comedy parody.
I had also executive produced Dwight Howard’s “In the Moment” for Epix, so had my hand in a bunch of serious sports docs and thought there was the opportunity to do something really unique by merging the world of sports and comedy together.
TheWrap: As outlandish as the series is, it also seems very grounded in reality, was that the intention?
Ratner: I think that having the Kenny Maynes and Michelle Beadles of the world commenting as strong voices in sports media adds to the credibility of the show. You have anchors who you usually hear talking about real news now commenting on these wild stories … then you have actors or comedians, and, of, course the real athletes themselves. It all lends itself to a really strong parody that walks the line of “am I watching something real or is this fake?”
TheWrap: Was it difficult to get such A-list athletes to sign on to the show?
Ratner: Season 1 was hard to cast as we were pitching an idea and we had the straight to series order from go90, which was a new platform at the time. I just believed in this so much and had done some work with Vice and ESPN, so we were able to get a foot in the door to pitch these guys as to why it would be a good brand move for a lot of them to show their fans a different side of their personalities.
It was the domino effect, once we got Blake and Mark Cuban — who was also appearing in my Netflix movie, “One in a Billion” — we were able to get the rest. Then once Season 1 was successful, I was able to parlay that as a proven concept for Seasons 2 and 3.
TheWrap: We can’t all be Peyton Manning, and some actors are great on the court or field but can’t act — how did you tackle that?
You need to play to their strong suits — certain people have the personality to act and others do not, so you have to realize that you are’t working with traditional actors and to set them up for success.
Blake has unbelievable comedy chops and has done improv and stand up, so he was a natural and we were able to give him a character with more range. It was all physical comedy in Season 1, then he has a huge role in the Season 2 premiere as he is cut out for that. Other guys just play extensions of themselves … it is done on a case-by-case basis.
TheWrap: It seems that the crossover between sports and entertainment gets stronger every year, why is that?
The timing is great right now as there’s never been more places for projects to air, with live events and sporting events increasingly ending up at places like go90. Plus, the desire from the consumer to have original content and to see their favorite athletes in a different light has never been bigger. It’s an opportunity for athletes to connect with fans in a different way … it’s a big difference to hearing an athlete with a mic in his face in a post-game interview after a loss. This is a chance for these guys to try their hands at something new in the off-season that interests them and to show off their personality.
We see a lot of guys wanting to gravitate towards comedy, to executive produce, or like LeBron James, to star in Judd Apatow movies such as “Trainwreck.” So I think there are a lot of ways to create new content with athletes and we’re exploring all of those.
TheWrap: How did you juggle all the athletes’ team obligations during the season?
It’s a nightmare scheduling with athletes! We have an anthology series with a minimum of six different cast members per episode, so it becomes a crazy scheduling jigsaw puzzle. We had the basketball season dictate it as the show is NBA-heavy, but then we also had MLB, WNBA and NFL players on there as well. Hall of Fame players like Dr. J were a lot easier to book.
We figure out how we get these guys in and out. One of the cool things about the show is the ability to have someone in there for 45 minutes of work and do a talking head asking their opinion on a bunch of fictitious story lines, so we can have them do six episodes at once. It allows them to spend a day over the summer shooting and then stay super relevant throughout the season when the show rolls out, so it is a really good look for everyone.
One of the highlights this season is Marlon Wayans playing an overbearing father who starts recruiting his son at different schools at seven years old, and then we have LaVar and Lonzo Ball giving commentary on that storyline. Getting in on the joke and being part of it is one of the cool opportunities with the show and it makes for fun, confusing television.
TheWrap: How has it been working with a relatively new platform such as go90?
We’ve done three seasons of TV with them and they have been great to work with, they really bought into the vision of the show. We thought it was a perfect fit given the live events and NBA games that they carry. They’ve allowed us to have a lot of fun and go wild this season. The first season was one of their best-received shows so we just wanted to go bigger and crazier. Being able to have that creative freedom is invaluable.
TheWrap: Do you have a wish list of who you’d like to go on the show?
What I really want to do is the “untold story” of Spike Lee and Reggie Miller, in which Reggie goes to all of Spike Lee’s movie premieres and heckles him. As a New Yorker, that is one that I have really wanted to make, but it is another scheduling challenge as they are both so busy — Spike with his movies and Reggie now as an analyst now. The goal is to highlight a rivalry in real life.