ESPN commercials become Sundance Channel’s Nimrod Nation documentary

Tonight, the Sundance Channel debuts an “eight-part original documentary series from filmmaker Brett Morgen [that] profiles rural Watersmeet, Michigan, where everyone follows the progress of the local high-school basketball team — the Nimrods,” according to the network. Two episodes air Mondays at 9 p.m. ET for the next four weeks.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because the series was born out of commercials that aired four years ago on ESPN. Director Brett Morgen tells the Kansas City Star’s Aaron Barnhart, “For 20 years, I’ve wanted to do a portrait of small town America. When the commercial exploded, I knew I could sell a show called ‘Nimrod Nation’ or something like that, and that would be the hook to enable me to do the show that I’ve really wanted to do. … The goal, for us, was to try to produce ads that can be funny, without being condescending, that sort of have a lot of heart built into them. We really had the same goal, going into the series, which was let’s do this show, ‘Nimrod Nation,’ without being patronizing or condescending and really meet our subjects at their level and present the world through their eyes.”

True to documentary and reality form, Morgen said that he hoped not much would happen during the four months they filmed. “It was really important that we avoid the sort of melodrama and histrionics that one gets in reality and try to do something that was a bit more lyrical and poetic,” he told the New York Times.

The documentary, Sundance says, is “[m]ore a portrait of a small American town than a conventional sports documentary,” and “sympathetically observes life and conversation in the local coffee shops, hunting lodges and locker rooms as the long, cold basketball season unfolds.” Here’s a preview:

Nimrod Nation [Sundance Channel]
We’re all Nimrods now [Kansas City Star]
[New York Times]

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.