July 13, 2011 6:05pm PT by Tim Goodman
'The Franchise' on Showtime: Outside of Giants Fans, Will Anyone Watch?
Let's make this clear right now: If the Dodgers were the subject of Showtime's new docu-series The Franchise, I wouldn't be writing this. In fact, even though The Hollywood Reporter pays me to write about television, I'm not sure there's enough coin in the coffer for a die-hard Giants fan like myself to suffer through All Things Blue. Which makes me wonder why anyone would watch A Season With the San Francisco Giants.
I've certainly liked all of what I've seen so far -- which you can file under "couldn't call it unexpected."
When the New York Jets were on HBO's Hard Knocks, I could barely stomach 15 minutes of it. Why? Because I'm a fan of football second, a fan of the San Francisco 49ers first. Every time Rex Ryan opened his mouth, I wanted someone to shut it (knowing all the while that, yes, it was pretty good television). But still. The concept here is foreign to me. Look, my woeful Golden State Warriors are, historically, one of the lousiest teams in all of basketball. I can miss vast stretches of games and not feel like I'm missing anything. But I'd rather stick a fork in my eye and twist it than watch Kobe Bryant say anything out loud in front of a microphone. Just the thought of even considering setting the DVR to watch the Lakers or Knicks on a docu-series makes me fall down in laughter. No way. Not if you paid me. And they're paying me.
So, there it is. I don't get it. However, if you pull me far enough away from a sport -- like, say, soccer -- where I don't have decades of love or rooting interest then, sure, I could watch. If it were well done, I could probably watch hours about various European clubs. But if it's a hockey series, it better be about the Sharks or forget it.
I hope for Showtime's sake that other people are less rigid in their loyalty. That other potential viewers don't have my closed mind. Because I'm all over Your World Champion San Francisco Giants. I may actually watch each episode with the bunting out in my living room and my face painted orange and black. Hey look, here's five minutes on Cody Ross. Hell yes I'll watch that. The saga of Brandon Belt -- absolutely. I love it already.
But as I watched the first episode and various special clips of The Franchise, something nagging wouldn't let go. And that something was this: As much as I love Brian Wilson -- and the dude loves a camera and, better yet, knows what to do in front of it -- I can't escape the suspicion that people who have never been in The House That Barry Built will not like Wilson's act for more than, say, a minute. And that minute may have elapsed last season. For all the magical whimsy of "A Band of MiSFits" -- from Panda to The Freak to the concept of fearing the beard -- isn't this really something best appreciated in the Bay Area? I mean, if The Franchise had been the most fortunate docu-series in history and followed the G-Men during their improbable 2010 run to be World Champs, then hell yes I would expect everyone else to watch. I'd watch a documentary unfold if it happened to miraculously follow the Chicago Cubs as the team won the World Series. I might even cry while I watched it. But the year after? No. Screw the Cubs.
But hey, that's just me. Showtime will undoubtedly find people who want to look behind-the-scenes of a professional sports franchise and get access they normally can't. They will want to know what's going on in Barry Zito's head and whether yoga will clear it out. So The Franchise has hope yet.
And as far as storytelling angles -- wow. Rookie of the Year Buster Posey -- one of the most beloved modern-day Giants, reaching that lofty height in so short of a time -- gets mowed down at the plate and is out for the season. Journeyman Andres Torres, who busted out in the title year and who is also the main subject of a documentary on ADD goes into a horrible, soul-searching tailspin. Aubrey Huff -- he of the rally thong and the outsized personality who lightened up the Giants clubhouse -- has been brutal for the first half of the season (and I should know this, because he's on my fantasy baseball team). There are all kinds of great stories for The Franchise to cover and I have no doubt that as a die-hard fan, I'll be enlightened.
Plus, if there's ever a dull moment, Brian Wilson can easily fill it.
The question is, will the producers of The Franchise get those stories right -- will they capture the hardship of repeating? It can't be one big happy story -- even if the Giants are still in first place in the NL West at the All-Star break. The team can't hit anything. Belt got hurt -- and sent back to Triple A, thus defusing the storyline of him making the team and crying. Freddie Sanchez, a .300 hitter and Mr. Clutch down the stretch for the Giants last season -- is hurt and likely out for the season. Wilson proved, as the All-Star game approached, that he was fallible. If there's an implosion coming, it needs to be on camera.
Beyond that, as Giants fans watch, they should pay particular attention to the attention. That is, despite the fact that reporters who cover the Giants say the team doesn't seem distracted by The Franchise, could it actually be a part of their woes this year (not the injuries, of course, but Huff's and Torres' prolonged slumps)? Something to note.
Of course, Giants fans know that there has been no truer saying than "Giants baseball: Torture." So there's a certain belief among fans that nothing will come easy. Maybe The Franchise will be the latest obstacle that the G-Men have to overcome. And hey, if the rest of the country wants to follow the team via this Showtime series, please do. I see the early kinks in the structure of the show but I'm otherwise blinded by bias here. I have faith that The Franchise will tell a bunch of interesting stories and give insight into the clubhouse atmosphere, players at home, etc. And the end result will be that it's absolutely must-see TV. But I say that while writing this with a Giants cap on my head.