New Year's Eve in Times Square is too old school for ESPN. The sports network plans to ring in 2009 with a motorcycle jump and truck flip in Las Vegas.
ESPN was pleasantly surprised by the success of a similar daredevil program on New Year's Eve last year, even though one of its planned stunts fell through when Rhys Millen broke some vertebrae during a practice run.
Millen will be back this year, trying again to do a complete back-flip of an off-road truck. Robbie "Maddo" Maddison will try to jump to the top of the 96-foot-high replica of the Arc de Triomphe in front of the Paris Las Vegas Hotel.
ESPN plans to air both stunts from Las Vegas without a tape delay, said Joan Lynch, ESPN's vice president for content development.
That's a sign of confidence in Millen and Maddison and a signal that appropriate safety precautions have been taken, she said. In the event something goes wrong, the cameras can quickly cut away and there will be no exploitation, she said.
ESPN tried a few years back to have a traditional New Year's Eve program, with music and partying from Times Square. But it wasn't particularly distinctive, she said.
Last year's daredevil episode — where Maddison leaped more than the length of a football field on his motorcycle — brought in more than five million viewers, Lynch said. The event, "Red Bull: New Year. No Limits," is more consistent with the network's image, she said.
"Watching the ball drop is fun," Lynch said. "But it doesn't leave you on the edge of your seat. This does."
Actually, the ESPN show will break briefly to show the ball drop in Times Square before getting back to the stunts, she said.
Maddison not only needs to jump high and precisely to complete his stunt, he'll then jump off the imitation Are de Triomphe, "which is just as dangerous, if not more dangerous," Lynch said.
ESPN didn't expect Millen to return, but he wanted to prove his stunt could work, Lynch said.
She said last year's audience proved to be more than just young men who couldn't get dates on New Year's Eve.
"We found that it was a lot of kids last year," she said. "It was a lot of families. I encourage people of a certain age to remember what it was like watching an Evel Knievel stunt."