Friday, October 3, 2008

The Pitch

This morning's story about the MLB Network had me thinking of the programming we're likely to see there and, more to the point, the kind of programming I'd like to see there. Pete Toms wrote a comment to that post expressing interest in the Arizona Fall League and international baseball events like the WBC and the Carribean Series. I'd probably watch some of that, but I have to be honest and say that my interests skew more towards actual MLB action. Upshot: if MLB Network were to play pre-1990 games in their entirety -- regular old games, not just World Series or otherwise notable games -- I would probably tune in and rip off the dial.

But obviously they are going to need more, and I have an idea that I'm willing to share for the low, low price of absolutely free: A baseball travel show that after approximately seven seconds of thought, I will tentatively title "Road Trip."

The premise: a half hour travel show in which our intrepid host is plopped down in a Major League city for a weekend. The centerpiece of each show, obviously, is to go to a game or three, giving viewers the taste of the Los Angeles Dodgers experience or the Kansas City Royals experience, or whatever. He -- along with a local contact/friend/guide perhaps -- will visit the best places to hang out before and after the games. He'll find the best real world (i.e. non-VIP) seats and talk about the stadium and stuff. Overall, he'll do his best to convey the history, flavor, and general milieu of a given team, its park, its fans, and its city.

If this sounds somewhat familiar to some of you cable geeks, it's because what I'm basically picturing is Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" show, but for baseball.

In my mind the key to that show's success -- and what makes it different from any other travel show -- is that there is a distinct editorial voice at the center. Unlike your usual vapid hostbot, Bourdain has strong opinions about the places he's going before he goes there and spends each show trying to figure out the extent to which those opinions are valid, stupid, or something in between. He'll eschew the cliche landmarks and experiences hyped by the local visitor's bureau and attempt to get the feel of a place on the street level and through the eyes of the locals.

I think such a thing could be done with baseball. I'm reminded of a weekend I spent in southern California last year, in which I went to Dodger Stadium with a college roommate and Petco with my brother over the course of a weekend. Neither of my game experiences followed the cliched storylines that spring to mind when you think about those places. For example, in Los Angeles, we got to Dodger Stadium early and stayed late. Surprisingly enough, so did many others. In the almost universal effort to paint L.A. as apathy central, their stories are never told. Throw in some trips to off the beaten path Dodger fan hangouts, provide a brief lesson about the largely and shamefully unknown history of Chavez Ravine, and splash in some prologue and epilogue about where Los Angeles fits in the baseball universe, and you have yourself a show. Multiply that by 30 teams and you have a couple of seasons. Sprinkle in some episodes about Cooperstown, some select minor league city experiences, and one-offs like baseball card shows and the SABR convention and you have at least another season's worth. If the thing does well you can justify a trip to Japan and other places.

Other random thoughts:
  • Critical to this show's success would be that it not come off as some paid advertisement. Sure, if MLB is airing the thing the production would have to observe some prudent limits -- for example, you couldn't get away with visiting an Orioles bar where Peter Angelos is hung in effigy -- but you would want to make sure that you conveyed an accurate portrait of both the joys and frustrations each team's city and supporters experience by virtue of their fandom. I hate the word "edgy," but it needs to err on that side of things;
  • Bourdain's shows are always improved by a local guest or fixer that either actually provides local insight, or at the very least serves as a foil or comic relief. If I were producing the show, I'd have my host hook up with particularly knowledgeable local fans. Maybe even a blogger. Visiting Seattle? Meet up with Zumsteg and Cameron and let them guide the viewers through. San Diego? How about Geoff Young? I'm sure guys like that could show the host a side of Mariners and Padre fandom that you simply don't get in the normal course of things.

  • This was mentioned before, but your host would have to be a guy with a strong point of view. You can't have some warmed over local news personality doing it. It would have to be someone who could explain the history, nature, and fanbase of Team X in City Y in knowledgeable and colorful terms while simultaneously serving as a pair of eyes the viewing audience could identify with. Ultimately, you'd want the viewer to wish he was on the trip with the host, hanging out with him, and going to the places he's going.
  • I think you get the idea. Hopefully someone at MLB TV has had the same idea and is working on something like that.

    If not, well, I'm generally free between 2009 and 2012, and I'm taking calls.


    Seth said...

    Now that's a show I'd rip the dial off for. Zimmern, Bourdain, and Calcaterra: DVR -> record series.

    And definitely go with DMZ and Cameron when you visit Seattle.

    Pete Toms said...

    I've never heard of Bourdain but I have watched partial episodes of "The Real Football Factories International". Same premise, host travels around the world to attend soccer / football matches and has some of the local fanatics / fans / hooligans guide him around. I've zero interest in soccer ( thank goodness my kids didn't like it, they play baseball ) but oddly I do find this program appealing.

    Great idea Craig. Are you telegenic?

    Tony Petiti, are you out there?

    Pete Toms said...

    Forgot. Craig, when your program goes to The Bronx, make sure you visit the bowling alley behind the former bleachers at the old stadium. Great, great, spot.

    Craig Calcaterra said...

    Am I telegenic? Depends on how much powder they have for my giant bald head.

    I was a DJ at a Top 40 radio station for a couple of years, and they always said I had a great face for the job.

    Jay said...

    This is a fantastic idea, and given your penchant for road trips, Craig, I think you'd be excellent for it. Since you want to call the show "Road Trip", maybe you could bring the commute from place to place into the equation. You could start in Miami and end at Fenway going sort of clockwise around the country. Maybe try to hit one series at each ballpark. Seattle to Minnesota would kind of suck though...

    Craig Calcaterra said...

    Jay -- you're wrong: the Plains of eastern Montana and the Dakotas are great, man. You put in some some cds, lash the wheel, and let your mind just drift over the rolling countryside.

    Anyone can cruise the Pacific Coast Highway. It's the ability to handle and even enjoy 800 mile stretches of desolation that define a real driver.

    Jay said...

    I'll take your word for it, I've never been out that way. You really DO love road trips!

    I guess I was thinking in terms of "Let's get from Point A to Point B", but if you were making a show about the journey and left enough time that you didn't feel rushed, I can imagine it being quite enjoyable.

    Peter said...

    How about a show that tags along on Keith Law's scouting trips?

    Obviously it wouldn't happen because he's with ESPN, but it'd be interesting, and Keith's got a little bit of Bourdain in him.

    Jason @ IIATMS said...

    Four words:
    Dude, I am SO in.

    Daniel said...

    Give me a call when you get to Anaheim.

    As for the road trip, the stretch between Phoenix and Arlington is brutal for anyone doing the counter-clockwise thing. I've done it. Not pretty.

    The Rio Grande? Not so Grande. Or Rio for that matter.

    Sara K said...

    Remember Jim Caple's stadium tour for, what, three years ago? He visited every stadium and did ratings, all with the Page 2 attitude. If a TV crew had been with him, it sounds like exactly what you are talking about.

    Sara K said...

    Ok, Jim Caple et al.:

    Dan Whitney said...

    I would get cable to watch this show and TiVo every episode.

    aleskel said...

    this show sounds great, but only if you get hammered every episode and make vague allusions to past drug use like Bordain

    Jason @ IIATMS said...

    Jim Caple's tour with Dave Attel's "Insomniac". Now that is a great mix

    T.J. said...

    "Four words:
    Dude, I am SO in."

    Five? :)

    Ted Spradlin said...

    The more integrated that show is with baseball personalities, online and offline, the better it will be. You should run with the idea Craig.

    Baseball loving geeks on the blogs will love seeing their own "make it to the show." The "Beer Thirty Workin' Man" may realize these smart, pasty, bald guys are pretty cool after all.

    Great idea Craig.

    Fred Trigger said...

    why dont you just try to pitch the idea to a network? you have nothing to lose, only everything to gain, plus, hell, I would watch it. Especially if you are as as entertaining to watch as you are to read.

    Anonymous said...

    Definitely sounds like a great idea, I would watch it in a sec. Love Bourdains sarcastic remarks and actual journeys and knowledge. Do it Craig!