Admit it: Even a Dodger fan can come to appreciate the added value of watching Showtime’s summer documentary series, “The Franchise,” (linked here) which follows around the San Francisco Giants during their post-World Series season of 2011.
The Giants have produced a fairly decent encore. “The Franchise” deserves one as well.
But tonight’s 10 p.m. entry marks the last of eight episodes, only because that was the agreement made before this all started with Mike Tollin’s production company and with the decision makers at Major League Baseball. Even then, it stretched a couple weeks past its deadline.
“Since this was the first year of trying it, it’s really walk before you run,” executive producer Tollin said today from his Valley-based office.
“It was a big leap for the Giants and Major League Baseball to give us this kind of access, and they were comfortable with this treatment. It was so unprecidented that they agreed to give us a chunk of the season, but to cut it off before the pennant race started.”
A sort of baseball version of “Hard Knocks,” except that it is a live turn-around series that takes place during the regular season, “The Franchise” ended up covering eight months of the Giants’ journey. Aside from the opening special that debuted in July, the eight were two more than they’d agreed to extend it to in mid-August because of the successes in all areas of production and viewer reception.
Entertainment Weekly’s Lynette Rice wrote (linked here) back in July that San Francisco fans” weren’t exactly thrilled to hear” about the Showtime series because “hardly any famous person does a reality show without looking like a tool” and it would distract from their priorites of trying to repeat.
It has been the complete opposite.
“The Franchise” was able to give incredible insight into the current season as well as inserting back-story details on player injuries, managerial decisions, front office manuevering, laundry room pranks and all the peek behind the curtain stuff that you’d only know about if you were a daily beat writer covering the team. And even then, you didn’t get half the access.
The fact that the Giants do have so many “misfits,” as manager Bruce Bochy likes to call them, made it even more enjoyable. A feature, for example, how how reliever Brian Wilson was raised by a father who died of cancer, and explains why he gives him teh cross-armed salute after every save he registeres, really means something after seeing it explained.
More background on second baseman Freddy Sanchez, the former Burbank High standout and one-time NL batting champ, who has to sit at home in Arizona and watch games from his TV set as he rehabs, are exceptional insights into how a player tries to keep grinding but really is kept apart from his teammates during the process.
The same with injured pitcher Barry Zito (Pierce College, USC) as he carries the weight of his contract with him every time he goes out to the mound — only to have another physical setback.
The series ends tonight as the Giants seem to be losing their grip on the NL West, as the acquisition of Carlos Beltran isn’t quite preventing the Arizona Diamondbacks from climbing over them in the standings.
But another intriguing backstory comes out in tonight’s episode — infielder Mark DeRosa, a clubhouse leader with an $8 million salary who has been injured all year and even going back to 2010, finally coming back, getting a key hit, stealing a base and scoring the winning run in a game against Houston that seems to give the team renewed hope.
Recaps on the season so far from surprise All-Star pitcher Ryan Vogelsong, infielder Pablo Sandoval, rookie Brandon Belt and Zito will also be in tonight’s episode.
“This whole experience has been a postive one, and the players say they’ve enjoyed it, it hasn’t been an intrusion,” said Tollin (his IMBD.com link here), who developed a relationship with the Giants’ front office when he did the “Bonds On Bonds” series for ESPN nearly 10 years ago, and is known more around Hollywood for his production with partner Brian Robbins of such movies as “Coach Carter,” “Radio,” and “Varsity Blues,” as well as do several ESPN “30 For 30″ documentaries.
“I hope we’re back again, maybe with a different team, and extend it through the season.”