For two weeks in August, sports that are traditionally less visible throughout the year will find the spotlight during the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
American pride will be wrapped up in the fate of swimmers, divers and gymnasts instead of linebackers, point guards or pitchers. To take advantage of this surge in viewer interest around more peripheral sports, Lifetime has greenlit the eight-episode Gold Medal Families from Los Angeles-based prodco The Company.
The series profiles six Olympic hopefuls and their families as they train for the Games – a rare example of a competing network programming a docuseries around the Olympics, which NBC has the broadcast rights for through 2020.
“The Olympics scare the crap out of everybody,” explains The Company co-founder Charlie Ebersol. “Lifetime had incredible foresight and some bravery in saying, ‘We recognize we might be helping the NBC family in the long term but in the short term there’s a great story to tell.’”
Gold Medal Families is a personal project for Ebersol whose father, former NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol, has produced NBC’s Olympic coverage many times and was instrumental in securing the rights to the Games for NBC.
Over the years, he came to know the families of athletes such as swimmer Michael Phelps and snowboarder Shaun White and recognize the economic and personal sacrifices many families make in order to fulfill their children’s Olympic dreams.
Whereas athletes are the focus of the promotion and coverage around the Olympic Games, the families usually remain on the sidelines. Gold Medal Families broadens out to look at six athletes who come from diverse families, but share a similar dynamic.
“These kids are sacrificing their childhood and so much of their [lives] to do this. What does that mean for their familial relationships? What’s the story of the mom or the sister?” says Ebersol. “That was a big selling point for Lifetime and made the series about something other than sports.”
The athletes profiled in the series are gold-medal gymnast Aly Raisman, diver Steele Johnson, boxer Jajaira Gonzalez, diver Jordan Windle, rhythmic gymnast Nastasya Generalova and swimmer Sean Grieshop.
Ebersol and his production team had conversations with the International Olympic Committee, NBC and various sports federations to identify and then access athletes in training who were likely to qualify for the Games. He also worked personal contacts to find potential athletes who could appear in the show.
“Making this type of sacrifice usually requires gigantic personalities so this subject leant itself nicely to casting,” he says.
Coordinating the production was a challenge due to the scope of the series: six athletes living in five cities who traveled to four different continents to compete. Each had wildly different but intense schedules. For example, Raisman – captain of the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team – trains six days a week for more than 12 hours a day and has other media commitments.
“Finding time [to] sit down with her and do an interview to keep up with the volume of what we were filming was daunting,” says Ebersol.
Lifetime will air back-to-back episodes of Gold Medal Families over four consecutive Tuesdays beginning on June 28. Ebersol is exec producing alongside Mike Lanigan and Bryn Freedman, as well as Lifetime’s Mary Donahue and David Hillman.
- Gold Medal Families premieres Tuesday (June 28) at 9 p.m. EST/PST on Lifetime.
- Check out an exclusive clip below