Report: Producers rushed to finish 'The Last Dance' when pandemic hit, and they're still not done

Whether you think it’s high-level film making or a Michael Jordan fluff piece, “The Last Dance” is helping to fill the gaping sports void created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The two-hour block of programming on Sunday nights on ESPN has become a must-watch for sports fans, many of whom would otherwise be watching the NBA playoffs instead.

According to a report from Arash Markazi of The Los Angeles Times, it took a rush job to get it to air. And it’s still not done with four episodes remaining.

How production shifted around COVID-19

Markazi detailed the production rush that went into getting the 10-part documentary to air more than a month before it was scheduled.

Director Jason Hehir was planning a March 10 trip to Spokane, Washington as the pandemic took hold in the United States to interview former Utah Jazz point guard John Stockton for the final episode. ESPN called off the trip as travel became perilous.

“We didn’t know what shelter in place even meant at that point,” Hehir told Markazi. “We would not have been able to finish if I was stuck in Spokane for an extended period of time.”

Two days later, the NBA suspended its season, initiating a domino effect of other major U.S. sports leagues shutting down.

"The Last Dance" series finale is reportedly still not finished. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Episode 10 still not finished

At that point, only three of the episodes were complete with other episodes in post-production, according to the report. Thanks to a group of editors working from home, the network was able to meet the demand to get it to air more than six weeks ahead of schedule. Episode nine was completed on Friday, and the final episode won’t be finished until May 10, a week ahead of its scheduled May 17 air date.

The series was originally scheduled to air starting June 2, built around the NBA Finals. Two episodes would have aired on off-nights during the NBA’s championship series, creating a block of nightly must-see NBA programming for ESPN and ABC.

The rush to finish has undoubtedly shifted the production from its original course. If we see Stockton interviewed via Zoom in the series finale amid high-level production elsewhere, we’ll know why.

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