Having to work last night I set my DVR for the series premier of The Franchise, a co-production of Showtime and MLB Productions. Cameras are following the San Fransisco Giants as they attempt to defend their World Series title. The show seemed to be an attempt to compete with HBO’s popular Hard Knocks and 24/7 documentary series. While not a fan of reality TV, or TV in general that’s not a sporting event, I have enjoyed these programs in the past.
This is not MLB Productions first crack at this type of program. Last year MLB Network aired the “The Club” where the cameras tracked the Chicago White Sox with an emphasis on the front office. While at times interesting the program covered almost the entire season over the course of about a dozen episodes. Conversely the HBO series followed it’s subjects for a period of only a few weeks. This enabled them to capture subtle moments like Rex Ryan talking about why he un-tucks his shirt. It’s little moments like this that humanizes the subjects and causes the audience to truly connect. The first episode of The Franchise covered the entire first half of the season up to Ryan Vogelsong being named an all-star by manager Bruce Botche. If the first episode is any indication The Franchise is lacking the nuance that the medium requires to be successful.
What I was hoping for going into the premier episode was for a Rex Ryan or Bruce Boudreau character to emerge. While the Giants undoubtedly have some characters in the clubhouse I didn’t laugh at any point. Despite the fact The Franchise is on pay cable it still felt sanitized compared to Hard Knocks or even Jim Bouton’s portrayal of life in the majors in Ball Four. Somebody send a prank paternity suit, that would be hilarious. We didn’t see any Giants players out on the town on the road. In the past we have all heard stories about Barry Zito out socializing. Having seen behind the curtain in other shows and books, the reality we see on The Franchise feels sterilized by comparison.
I don’t want to come across as overly harsh. I was entertained watching the premier. The scenes of Matt Cain leaving his wife and infant child were truly touching. Jeremy Affeldt visiting Brian Stow, the victim of the Dodger Stadium beating and his family and then addressing the fans at AT&T Park was as well. I’ll record the second episode. If I lose interest that might say more about my viewing habits than the show. Still at the end of the first episode I was still left wanting more.