Remember the first season of Survivor? There was a strong buzz around the country about the newest form of television. Watching real people, unscripted, saying whatever came to mind when and where they wanted? Unheard of. Since then we have been graced and disgraced alike by a glut of Paradise Island, Big Brother, The Bachelor, and the ultra popular Jersey Shore. Survivor is in what seems to be its 32nd season, and the reality show genre is taking another turn, right into the locker rooms and clubhouses of our favorite sports teams.
Favorite might not be the right word. While it is true that a show about the Yankees, or the Cowboys, or any other of the more popular, ESPN driven teams that find their way into America's living rooms month in and month out would undoubtedly fetch more viewers, television is a different game all together. Television programs have one criteria altogether. Be compelling. Show me a program that isn't compelling, and I'll show you one that is cancelled after one season. Sports and TV are different in that respect. Fans of teams will still follow the team year in and year out, even if the team is horrible. Fans will always have hope for their team. They have no patience for a struggling TV program. They will move on to the next good one.
It is important to make this distinction. Television thrives on characters. And any sports driven TV program needs strong characters. That's why Rex Ryan of the New York Jets was such a great choice for the inaugural season of HBO's Hard Knocks. The foulmouthed coach held nothing back from the microphone that sat on his hip, and the country got to see how training camp worked from start to finish. It was a fresh take on reality television, and most of all, it was a compelling and entertaining look into something that hardly anybody in the country gets to see: a professional locker room.
And now, HBO's rival station Showtime is trying to get in on the sports reality scene. But instead of football, it is tackling the world of Major League Baseball. What better team to follow then the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants? If we return to the point that television needs a compelling cast of characters and a strong story line to retain viewers, then this year's Giants team is almost a no-brainer.
While the focus is on the season of the team, there are definitely overarching storylines of individual players and their plights. Perhaps the most impressive, heartwarming, and generally amazing baseball stories of the last 10 years, Ryan Vogelsong is having a season for the ages. At 34 years old, and being relegated to Japan since 2008, the prodigal sons return to San Francisco has been truly something to behold. As of today he leads the NL in ERA.
Perhaps one of the most amusing characters is Giants Closer Brian Wilson. While he is a polarizing figure around the country, he is nothing if not entertaining. Say what you want about his beard, and his love for the spotlight, the man delivers memorable quote after memorable quote, especially at the end of the first episode. There are many other characters in the group of misfits who overcame the odds to win the World Series last year, but there is just not enough room here.
Now here's the big question, the one that makes this such a risky idea. Who's going to watch it? Giants fans, obviously. Being one myself, I eat this crap up. I can't get enough of anything Giants. Hell, I'll even stop everything I'm doing just to watch ESPN air a rare piece about them. But who else? I'm not sure. While I could beg and plead my Phillies fan (phan?) friends, or my Yankees fan friends, or anybody else, they probably have no interest. My hope, and I'm sure Showtime's hope is that the characters on the Giants are so compelling that even non fans will keep coming back to the team of loveable castoffs.
So I beg, plead, implore, and urge you to check out this series. It wont switch your allegiance from the Red Sox, or the Yankees, or the Phillies, that's not its attempt, or mine for that matter. It is simply a very interesting look into the lives and homes of a group of professional baseball players and their families and their lives. Check out the first episode and I guarantee you'll be coming back for more. Unless you're a Dodgers fan.