Why Major League Baseball Would Make a Terrible Reality TV Show

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The pacing is slow, there are too many games per season, and other reasons why MLB makes for bad television

BoredBaseball_Tim Shaffer_post.jpg

Reuters/Tim Shaffer


From: John Q. Executive
Vice President for New Programming Development
RTV Reality Television Network

Dear Major League Baseball,
Thank you for submitting your idea for a new reality series, Major League Baseball 2011, to RTV. Unfortunately, we must reject your concept. After carefully reviewing your idea, we believe that the 2011 MLB season would need to make drastic changes in order to be a successful on television.

There are potentially workable elements in your show. The Dodger family divorce in LA, and the Albert Pujols soap opera in St. Louis would make excellent reality show storylines. Derek Jeter's chase of 3,000 hits will be entertaining. Ichiro Suzuki, the rare baseball player truly alive to the vast, untapped potential of his sport, will handle the bat with signature grace and precision on his quest for an eleventh consecutive 200-hit season.

Nevertheless, MLB 2011 won't be good television. Not unless some serious, deep-rooted issues are addressed. Like a season that last for six months, running from March to November, with live shows broadcast from 30 different cities, 162 times a year, for a total of 2,430 episodes—not counting the year-end specials. It's massive overkill. Not even Oprah pumps out that much new programming. Besides, there's just something undeniably odd about the Boys of Summer playing their championship games in November. That's like a hockey league playing their championship in June. Who would ever be crazy enough to do that?

Another serious issue with MLB, of course, is the well-known drug problem. In recent years, a litany of MLB's best performers have had well-publicized battles with drugs—and not the fun kind of drugs, either. That list of performers includes perhaps the greatest hitter of all time, who's currently on trial for perjury.

Our research suggests that some fans still harbor resentment over the drug scandals. Certain fans are still angry about being duped, cheated on, lied to, flimflammed, hoodwinked and/or bamboozled by skeezy players and their feckless team management for the better part of two decades, and those fans are emphatically not in a mood to forgive the game just yet, thanks anyway.

Unfortunately, MLB's recent, and belated, attempts to clean itself up had the unintended consequence of making an existing problem worse. Namely, a high concentration of dead air. Today's TV viewers want lots of action. Yet, in 2010, the so-called "Year of the Pitcher," also known as "Year of the Drug Test," baseball saw steep declines league-wide in the average of runs per game, hits per game, home runs, and ERA.

You might think the lack of scoring would lead to livelier play. But, no. Despite MLB's own effort to quicken its pace, viewers will still be treated to the thrill-a-minute, edge-of-your seat spectacle of watching David Ortiz readjust his batting helmet twice between every pitch, or the sheer joy of watching C.C. Sabathia sweat. The average baseball game early in the 20th century was just under two hours. Early in the 21st century, the average game lasts just under three. Thirty of those extra minutes come from the TV commercials which pay to keep the lights on, grass green, and player salaries high. The other 30 minutes, however, consists of pretty much nothing at all. Again, we refer to market research, which suggests that a young, hip, plugged-in, 500-channel-surfing TV audience isn't very interested in watching guys stand around and scratch stuff.

But let someone suggest, however, that a world-class athlete should be able to swing a bat three times in a row without needing a rest, and purists will call it blasphemy. Suggest that a catcher like Jorge Posada shouldn't be allowed to visit the mound seven times in a single inning, and you will be told that you are wrong—that you are not, in fact, bored by inactivity. You are simply too stupid to understand the game. That's because, they will tell you, baseball is "like a chess match"—as though most people love nothing more than settling in to watch a three-hour game of chess.

To really speed things up, though, MLB will have to get serious about cutting all the minor, supporting characters that gum up the works. Like the Designated Hitter, i.e. "the Professional Fat Guy." Or the left-handed setup man for the right-handed middle reliever who's job is to trot in from the bullpen, warm up for ten minutes, face a single batter and bathe. At the very least, MLB could make the action more reality-friendly, maybe by adding a row of giant red rubber balls in the outfield that pitchers have to run across before entering the game, or holding some kind of Tribal Council after the last out where one player from each team would get voted down to the minors.

Sure, some of baseball's issues have no easy fixes, like constant player movement that makes it hard for fans to connect with a team, or a financial structure that essentially pays clubs like the Pirates and Royals to lose. MLB's dialogue can be a little stiff, too, with all that "One game at a time," Bull Durham-y stuff.

Some of the fixes are easy, though. Like that nickname, "the National Pastime"? That relic has got to go. Who do you know that has a problem of too much time and no way to pass it? Again, we thank you for submitting your idea to RTV. Best of luck in all your endeavors. But, barring drastic changes like those described above, we reiterate that the 2011 MLB season will not be a good fit for TV. That doesn't mean, however, the concept might not work elsewhere. We think it sounds perfect for radio.

Sincerely,

JQE at RTV

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Hampton Stevens is a writer based in Kansas City, Missouri. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, ESPN the Magazine, Playboy, Gawker, Maxim, and many more publications.

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