Ted Danson in <i>Knights of the South Bronx</i>

12/3/2005 – This A&E Network production premiers Tuesday, December 6, 8-10pm ET/PT. Ted Danson plays English teacher David MacEnulty in a true story which depicts one man’s struggle to better the lives of underprivileged children from a broken-down school in the South Bronx – by teaching them chess. Must watch.

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Knights of the South Bronx

Ted Danson stars in the inspiring true story of an inner-city teacher who taught his students to be champions. Directed by Allen Hughes. World Premiere Tuesday, December 6th, 2005, 8-10 pm ET/PT. Danson stars as English teacher David MacEnulty in this true story of heroism and inspiration. It depicts one man’s struggle to better the lives of underprivileged children from the South Bronx. By teaching these children chess, he transforms their lives and the lives of thousands of other kids, their families, and their neighborhoods. A&E Network has co-produced the film with Fox Television Studios (FtvS).

A&E Network reaches more than 88 million homes, bringing viewers a diverse mix of programming ranging from critically acclaimed original series and movies, to innovative documentaries, to the Emmy Award-winning Biography series, to dramatic specials, feature film presentations, and contemporary performances.

Emmy Award winner Ted Danson has enjoyed a career spanning television, film and the stage and is beloved for his portrayal of womanizing, recovering alcoholic barkeep Sam Malone in Cheers (1982-93) and as the crusty physician Becker (1998-2004), His feature film credits include The Onion Field, Three Men and a Baby, Body Heat, Creepshow, Cousins, Made in America, Dad, Mumford and Saving Private Ryan.

Synopsis of Knights of the South Bronx

When Richard Mason, a successful, middle-aged suburban New Yorker, is fired from his job, he returns to his first love: teaching. He gets a temporary job as a substitute teacher for a fourth grade class in a rough, inner-city South Bronx school. The kids are tough and unruly, but he quickly sees some glimmers of hope.

On the first day of class, Richard is confronted by plenty of attitude from his student Jimmy, who is filled with anger and who sees no point in school. Renee's little brother Dawson comes to class after morning kindergarten is over; Richard realizes Renee baby sits Dawson half of each day, because there is nowhere else for Dawson to go.

Jimmy is forced by a gang to steal a bike. When he almost gets caught, he drops the bike and runs to hide amid a crowd of people watching and playing chess. He sees his teacher Mr. Mason playing fourteen opponents at once – and beating them all! Jimmy has newfound respect for his teacher when Mason explains chess is like two armies going to war. Jimmy becomes fascinated with the game.

Mason gets the idea that these kids could gain an education and self esteem by learning chess. The students are invigorated, but the principal is wary. Mason is not following the lesson plan, so how could the children be learning? Mason puts math problems on the blackboard and declares there will be no chess until the math assignment is done. The kids scramble to do the problems, using their new chess brain skills.

It is quickly apparent that chess is making a huge difference in the kids' lives. Attendance is better. Test scores and grades are higher. When the kids learn they can compete for prizes and trophies in chess tournaments, just like other sports, they show Richard they're willing to work even harder, to earn the chance to compete.

Their first tournament is at the opposing team's school – a private school filled with mostly wealthy white kids. The South Bronx students are highly distracted by the beautiful and well-equipped school and by their opponents' uniforms and skin color. One by one, the South Bronx kids lose to their opponents – all except five year-old Dawson, who easily wins his match.

Mason gives a pep talk to his disappointed team. Arnie comes to class to help them analyze their games. They practice hard. They may not have the rich kids' gear, but they decide they can at least have a team name, and they share a cheer for the Knights of the South Bronx!

Each one wins in the next tournament. The opponents' coach is very impressed with the performance of the kids, even more so when he finds out they don't have coaches or time clocks. He gives Mason $300 to buy the team time clocks.

There remains only one final arena of competition for the young Knights to conquer – the Nationals! Mason has the Knights practice without their chess boards. If they want to have a chance to win the big tournament, they must learn to play the game in their heads!

However, principal Walker has bad news. The applications for the nationals have arrived. The registration fee is $75 per child, plus the airfare to Dallas. There's no way the school can afford the trip. They decide to have a bake sale and alert the media. Hundreds show up, including celebrities. But they still don't have enough money.

The next day at school, Mason is about to tell the kids they will not be able to go to the Nationals. But before he can say it, the rich elderly woman shows up to pay the balance – and then some. Mason and the team are on their way to Dallas! But will they be able to triumph in their biggest challenge yet?

In Knights of the South Bronx David MacEnulty strenuously argued that chess was not just a game but a set of mind skills that would enable children to face challenges they would encounter in their lives. They not only learned the art of competition, but triumphed by beating private school teams across the entire country.

Photos by L. Pief Weyman

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