Executives at ESPN Films will tell you that more people ask about “The U” than any other 30 for 30 documentary they’ve ever done. The film, which debuted on Dec. 12, 2009, chronicled the fusion between the growing hip-hop culture in Miami and the swaggering University of Miami football program that won four national titles between 1983 and 1991. At the time it was the most-watched ESPN documentary ever, with 2.368 million viewers tuning in.
The initial pitch from the filmmakers for The U — it was originally titled “Hurricane Season” — included a segment on the 12-0 national championship team in 2001, which many observers consider one of the best college teams in history. But it soon became obvious to everyone that the 1980s Miami teams were a documentary onto itself. So following the success of the original doc, “The U” director Billy Corben began pitching ESPN Films executives Connor Schell and John Dahl to do a sequel. One of the selling points was the 2001 team, which featured more than a dozen first round NFL draft picks. Last year ESPN Films greenlit a sequel, a first for the 30 for 30 series.
“We are hitting the fifth anniversary of the launch of 30 for 30 and of all the films we have done, The U consistently comes up as a favorite,” Dahl said. “That tells us something. The other thing is when we were working on the original and I went down to Miami in the summer of 2009, the challenge was how to bottle such a big story. It seemed like there was a good stopping point in the mid-90s when the program started to fall after [coach] Dennis Erickson left. This is not a repeat of the film five years ago. This is a pickup of where that film left off because there is so much more to cover.”