ESPN Seeks to Bolster Documentary Efforts by Hiring Marsha Cooke

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ESPN, which has seen some of its top executives charged with overseeing documentary and investigative work depart in recent months, said it had named news veteran Marsha Cooke as vice president and executive producer of its ESPN Films unit as well as its venerable “30 for 30” documentary unit.

Cooke, who spent 24 years at CBS News, was most recently senior vice president of global news and special projects at Vice Media Group.

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“Marsha’s extensive production experience, creative mind, and global perspective make her a tremendous asset to our team,” said Brian Lockhart, senior vice president, ESPN Films and original content, in a statement. “As we prepare for a dramatic expansion of our storytelling scope, her strategic thinking and leadership will help guide this ambitious next phase of the 30 for 30 brand. We are delighted to welcome her to ESPN.”

ESPN has long burnished documentary projects, but in recent months, it has refined its focus on them, hoping to build more franchises like last year’s “Last Dance,” a miniseries about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. Jimmy Pitaro, chairman of ESPN and sports content for its parent company, Disney, told Variety in July that the sports-media giant wanted to focus on “bigger and bolder projects that we think will move the needle, and it’s quality over quantity.” ESPN recently released the documentary “Once Upon A Time In Queens,” focused on the 1986 New York Mets, and is about to debut “Man in the Arena,” about NFL quarterback Tom Brady. The company is making more of the releases available on ESPN Plus, its subscription-based broadband hub.

The company has lost some top content executives. Connor Schell, ESPN’s former top content executive, departed last year to do more work as an independent producer. He helped the company get into projects including “Dance” and the award-winning documentary series “O.J.: Made in America.” Libby Geist, who had been ESPN’s vice president and executive producer of ESPN Films and original content, left the company last year.

“ESPN creates groundbreaking stories for both sports fans and non-sports fans,” said Cooke, in a statement. “Quite simply, it’s essential viewing and I’m thrilled to be joining this esteemed organization.”

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