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DIANE PUCIN / ON SPORTS MEDIA

Wayne Gretzky subject of ESPN mini-film

"Kings Ransom" by Peter Berg documents the 1988 trade from Edmonton to Los Angeles of the NHL's greatest goal scorer. The film will be the debut of the network's "30 for 30" series.

September 25, 2009|DIANE PUCIN | ON SPORTS MEDIA

You won't have to like hockey to like the mini-film "Kings Ransom" by Peter Berg, who is most noted for his work as a director on the television series and movie "Friday Night Lights" and as an actor in the role of Dr. Billy Kronk on "Chicago Hope."

"Kings Ransom" will be the debut of an ESPN series called "30 for 30." Yes, 30 filmmakers were charged with creating small movies related to a sports topic as part of ESPN's celebration of being on air for 30 years. The film's focus is on one particular chapter in the storied career of the NHL's greatest goal scorer, Wayne Gretzky.

Gretzky, who stepped down Thursday as coach of the Phoenix Coyotes, was part of one of the most stunning trades in L.A. sports history, and Berg's film is about how "The Great One" came to be a King.

It is a story Berg wanted to tell more than any story about any other sport, football and baseball included.

"It was a remarkable opportunity," he said. "I was going to be allowed to do anything I wanted having to do with sports. I became like a kid in a candy store."

Berg, who said he has always been a hockey fan, was in Paris when Gretzky was traded from Edmonton to Los Angeles in 1988.

"Tickets cost $5," Berg said, "and as soon as the trade was announced I got on the phone and bought season tickets.

"Immediately."

"Kings Ransom" is a documentary more than a mini-film, Berg said. As he interviewed Gretzky on film, Berg said he found him to be introspective and with some regret.

"I think Wayne spends some real time thinking about, 'What if I had kept that Edmonton team together?' He feels that if he had stayed in Edmonton he might have helped create one of the all-time best franchises in the history of any sport," Berg said. "He feels a little like with him, the guys in Edmonton could have won 10 Stanley Cups. He left, he came to Los Angeles, he won zero in Los Angeles."

"Kings Ransom" will debut on Oct. 6 on ESPN.

According to executive producer Keith Clinkscales, other notable directors who are part of the series include Barry Levinson, who does a piece on the Baltimore Colts band that stayed together even after the team abandoned the city, and John Singleton, who does a piece on disgraced track star Marion Jones.

Clinkscales said most of the films are about 51 minutes. Six are completed, and all 30 will be shown over the next 15 months.

Too much talking

It smacks a bit of exploitation. Both CBS (with James Brown again as the questioner) and the NFL Network (Sterling Sharpe will ask the tough ones) will feature interviews with Philadelphia Eagles backup quarterback Michael Vick on Sunday during pregame shows.

As if Vick's apologies/explanations about the hows and whys of his involvement with a dogfighting ring haven't been parsed enough. As if Vick hasn't been given plenty of chance to return to the NFL and rehabilitate his public image. As if Brown didn't already do this same thing on "60 Minutes."

Kind of makes one long for the days of wall-to-wall Brett Favre coverage.

Good today

Seeing Formula One race cars practice is fascinating, the speed, the way the cars handle. And when you can watch practice on the streets of Singapore, then you have the added attraction of a mini-travelogue. At 6:30 a.m., the Speed channel will carry the practice for the Singapore Grand Prix. Also, the Boston Red Sox are at the New York Yankees at 4 p.m. on TBS. At 7 p.m. on ESPN2, there's a matchup between national high school powers, Concord De La Salle at Lakeland, Fla.

Good on Saturday

They're everywhere! Saturday's Channel 11 national baseball game is, yes, Yankees and Red Sox, at 1 p.m. Josh Lewin and Tim McCarver will have the call. This is also about the time when the Versus-DirecTV spat will become annoying to those who aren't getting Versus now as part of their DirecTV package. Versus will have the Cornell at Yale game at 9 a.m. and Arizona at Oregon State at 4:30 p.m. The Pacific 10 can console itself that the California at Oregon game is on Channel 7 at 12:30 p.m. If you must, USC hosts Washington State at 7:15 p.m. on FS West.

Good on Sunday

The Formula One Singapore Grand Prix is live at 4:30 a.m. on the Speed network and the NASCAR Sprint Cup AAA 400 is on Channel 7 at 11 a.m. From fast cars to fast swings, Channel 4 has the PGA Tour Championship at 10:30 a.m., maybe the last chance to see Tiger Woods this season. From fast swings to fast backs, we get to see the Jets and Mark Sanchez again, this time against Tennessee, on Channel 2 at 10 a.m. And the Yankees-Red Sox trifecta: three days, three networks, this time on ESPN at 10 a.m.

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diane.pucin@latimes.com

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