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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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Hulu Turning Glen Powell Into Eli Manning With ‘Chad Powers’ Comedy

  • The ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ star will play the comedic QB Manning created for ESPN+.
  • Manning’s original Eli’s Places sketch has drawn over 15 million views.
Chad Powers
ESPN Images

Well over a year ago, I asked whether Eli Manning’s “Chad Powers” character could become the next Ted Lasso. The answer: Yes. 

Hulu is greenlighting a new half-hour comedy series built around the comedic quarterback character created by Peyton Manning’s Omaha Productions for ESPN+. Even better for Omaha’s scripted ambitions, one of the hottest names in Hollywood is leading the project.

Actor Glen Powell of Top Gun: Maverick will succeed Eli Manning as Powers. He’s also co-creating and co-producing with Michael Waldron, creator of Loki. Here’s the elevator pitch for the comedy: When bad behavior nukes hotshot QB Russ Holliday’s college career, he disguises himself and walks onto a struggling Southern football team as the talented, affable Chad Powers.

Powell and Waldron even quoted some of the fictional characters’ lines in a statement to the Hollywood trades: “We’re both die-hard college football fans. When we saw Eli as Chad Powers, we knew that was the way into a big, fun story about this world. We’re excited to be part of this team and can’t wait to get Chad in the game. ‘Think fast, run fast.’” 

I’m told that Omaha fielded offers from multiple Hollywood studios before joining forces with Powell, star of the upcoming Twisters remake, who appeared on the Omaha-produced Pat McAfee MegaCast of Texas-Oklahoma in October. He and Waldron were both looking for a football project. When they met with Omaha’s scripted team, led by Ben Brown, the partnership gelled. No date has been set for the premiere.

It’s the latest example of life imitating art in sports media. Over a decade ago, Jason Sudeikis’s Ted Lasso character first appeared in mockumentary-style commercials promoting NBC Sports’ coverage of the Premier League. The actor’s commercials, playing a fish out of water American football coach trying to coach soccer, were so funny that Apple TV+ built an entire show around the character, which has aired three seasons so far.  

Similarly, Tim Rumpff and Steve Menzel of NFL Films created the original Chad Powers character for Omaha’s Eli’s Places series on ESPN+. Their sketch showed an undercover Manning trying to walk on to the Penn State football team. After debuting on Sep. 21, 2022, it quickly went viral and has now amassed 15 million views on YouTube. It might be the biggest hit for the ESPN+’s Places franchise from Omaha and NFL Films, which now includes series from Peyton and Eli Manning, Sue Bird, David Ortiz, John McEnroe, Ronda Rousey, Vince Carter, and Abby Wambach.

While Powell is taking over the role, Eli Manning was involved behind the scenes. I’m hearing he sat in on the pitch process to Hulu–and also gave pointers on the football portions of the pilot script. 

Ernest Lupinacci, the former Nike copywriter turned screenwriter, says Hollywood loves underdog sports stories like Chad Powers, Ted Lasso, or Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky. Throw in the college football connection [Powell and Waldron root, respectively, for the Texas Longhorns and Georgia Bulldogs], and he’s not surprised two of the biggest names in Hollywood signed up.

“Why would [Powell] want to play a broken-down football player? Gee, I don’t know, the Super Bowl just drew 123 million viewers,” Lupinacci told Front Office Sports. “He’ll be playing Mr. Irrelevant.”

The three-year-old Omaha’s claim to fame is still Peyton and Eli Manning’s popular ManningCast of Monday Night Football. But the fast-growing production company has its eyes on more scripted projects. It has teamed with Amazon Prime Video to produce a documentary and scripted film about longshot Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike. It also has projects with Netflix, NBC, and the CW Network. And I hear the outfit’s bread and butter revenue comes from creating commercials for Fortune 500 advertisers. 

In 2023, Peyton Manning accepted a minority investment from Peter Chernin’s North Road Company, which valued his company at $400 million. Put it all together and Omaha’s on the fast track to become a billion-dollar media company, according to Bloomberg.

“I hope Glen is working on his QB skills,” joked Eli Manning on X [formerly known as Twitter] Thursday. “I saw him throw a football in Maverick. … He has some work to do!!.”

Michael McCarthy’s “Tuned In” column is at your fingertips every week with the latest insights and ongoings around sports media. If he hears it, you will, too.

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