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Volume 24 No. 154
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Showtime's "The Franchise" Offers In-Season Look At MLB Giants

Showtime tonight debuts its series "The Franchise," which chronicles the MLB Giants, and it "promises viewers drama, humor and an unprecedented level of access in the traditionally closed baseball clubhouse," according to front-page piece Monday by Peter Hartlaub of the S.F. CHRONICLE. The show was "viewed as both an investment and a risk" by the Giants and the team's fans. Showtime President of Entertainment David Nevins said that the Giants were a "hard sell." Part of the agreement with the team was a "promise that filming would end before August, to avoid distractions during a pennant race and possible playoff run." Giants manager Bruce Bochy said, "It couldn't have gone smoother, I think. What a great job they've done on their side, to not be intrusive, and yet hopefully they've gotten a lot of what they do need." Nevins and Bochy both indicated that there "haven't been problems with boundaries." The Giants are currently leading the NL West, and Nevins added the "only way this show could have gone bad is if the Giants were 15 games out of first place at the All-Star break." Meanwhile, Giants President & COO Larry Baer said that the "upside for the team was apparent immediately." The team's home games run "so late on the other side of the country," and "players on West Coast teams ... don't get the exposure of their Red Sox or Yankees counterparts." Hartlaub notes Producers Jason Katz and Danny Field have "worked on other productions involving" the White Sox and Phillies, but they said that this show "blows them away in terms of scope." They also "bristle at the obvious comparisons" to HBO's "Hard Knocks" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 7/11).

ELEMENT OF TRUST: BROADCASTING & CABLE's Ben Grossman "spent a game day in San Francisco with the team and the crew," and he notes Showtime "hopes 'The Franchise' will be compelling due to the access its cameras have and the trust level with the players and team staff." Giants Senior VP & GM Brian Sabean said that he and the team "have a very good understanding of the goal of the show, so they are giving the cameras significant access, even more so than they expected." He added that the Giants have "tossed out the cameras only a few times, for things like meetings with medical staffers." Showtime execs are "bullish on the new show because the Giants are a group comprised of some serious camera-ready characters and a couple of major league whack jobs" (BROADCASTING & CABLE, 7/11 issue). Bochy and the Giants players insisted that filming for "The Franchise" has "gone smoothly." In California, Chuck Barney noted viewers "won't see a trashy, 'Real Housewives'-like production, but rather an unprecedented behind-the-scenes slice of major league life that is bristling with raw emotion, offbeat humor and colorful personalities" (CONTRA COSTA TIMES, 7/11).

INSIDE THE MAKINGS: Exec Producer Mike Tollin, when asked how "The Franchise" differs from "Hard Knocks," said, "It is somewhat groundbreaking to do a show during the regular season. Here the games count. The access has been extraordinary." He added the biggest hurdle "was to get everyone comfortable with us and the cameras." Tollin: "We are approaching this as a documentary, not a reality show. We feel responsible to recognize where the line is drawn. The Giants are out there playing for real, with a lot on the line. We can't intrude" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 7/9). Nevins said, "I want the show to feel really immediate, but I also want it to feel like it's got deep access and you're getting a piece of these guys you don't get on ESPN" (USA TODAY, 7/13). The show is produced by MLB Productions, and in N.Y., Mike Hale noted the show's staff "may be part of the Major League Baseball family, but that doesn't mean that the players are much more than polite to them while striding by on their way to the trainer's room or the batting cage." The show is occurring "thanks to Major League Baseball's evolving effort at getting its brand in front of as many eyeballs as possible." MLB Productions "came up with the concept for 'The Franchise' and shopped it to various networks" (N.Y. TIMES, 7/10).

TAKING A SNEAK PREVIEW: A preview screening of "The Franchise" in Phoenix yesterday prior to the All-Star Game showed a more serious yet family-friendlier feel than shows like "Hard Knocks" or "24/7." Baer said, "This is not meant to be a reality series. We didn't think a show full of F-bombs would fit what the Giants are about. That's not meant to be critical of 'Hard Knocks,' or whatever. But we are seeking to be something different, and are telling more of a story, one that we think is multi-dimensional and multi-generational." Picking up the narrative from a preview episode shown in April, the full debut of "The Franchise" chronicles the Giants' early regular-season struggles, serious injuries to several key players including C Buster Posey, and the life-threatening assault of Giants fan Bryan Stow in L.A. Baer: "We're telling the story of our players, who we obviously believe are really great and will appeal to a national audience" (Eric Fisher, SportsBusiness Journal). In California, Cam Inman writes the debut episode "is a quality product" and "isn't a dud." Tim Lincecum is "relatively scarce" in the episode, as "about a dozen teammates are featured in quick-hit segments." Inman: "Heartwarming segments came from [Jeremy] Affeldt, Matt Cain, Cody Ross and Ryan Vogelsong inviting cameras to document their family lives. ... Flamboyant closer Brian Wilson didn't hog the show. Producers could have exploited that angle" (CONTRA COSTA TIMES, 7/13). In Oklahoma City, Mel Bracht writes networks "often break out alternative programming the night after the All-Star Game because there are no baseball telecasts to compete against." The debut of "The Franchise" "is the best of the lot" (DAILY OKLAHOMAN, 7/13).