The early reviews are in, and “Hard Knocks” is good again. The 12th season of the HBO show returned Tuesday night, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have people intrigued.
For the first time during its run, there was actually some concern about that. The 11th season followed the Los Angeles Rams as they made the move across the country. It was met with iffy reviews, and some wondered whether “Hard Knocks” needed to re-evaluate its formula.
And yet, here we are. I felt the same way about the Rams last season, and now I can’t wait to watch the Bucs premiere later tonight. Even though my football fandom has waned over the years – having Mike Glennon start for your favorite team will do that – I still get excited to watch “Hard Knocks” every year. It’s usually an enjoyable experience.
Baseball has no equivalent. It’s been tried a few times in the past. MLB Network used a similar format for “The Club,” which followed the Chicago White Sox in 2010. The clip of an emotional Sergio Santos being told he made the big league club is one of the few moments that stands out from the series. Finding video evidence the show existed is impossible, apparently, but it was a real thing.
Showtime tried to resurrect the idea with “The Franchise.” The show aired for two seasons, following the San Francisco Giants in 2011 and the Miami Marlins in 2012. The latest update about the show on Wikipedia notes that the Cleveland Indians were a possible choice for season three. The page hasn’t been updated since.
All three of those shows failed. And while the clip of Santos proved following a baseball team 24/7 can be compelling, it’s tough to reconcile the fact that two different networks couldn’t find a way to make Ozzie freaking Guillen entertaining. On top of that, 2012 was the year Guillen made controversial remarks about Fidel Castro in April and was fired in October. The ingredients were there for a compelling and dramatic show. Instead, the Marlins season of “The Franchise” was cut an episode short.
If you can’t make a big personality like Ozzie Guillen compelling, it’s fair to wonder whether the “Hard Knocks” format simply can’t translate to baseball.
While there are no plans to bring back this idea, we’re living in an age of constant reboots. “Ghostbusters” came back. “Star Wars” came back. “Will and Grace” is coming back. It’s not inconceivable for some network to say, “hey, maybe we can do it right this time.”
If that happens, they’ll need to navigate a number of challenges presented by baseball.
There are two ways to approach following a baseball team 24/7. You could go the “Hard Knocks” route and be around the club during spring training. Or you could try to do an entire season, which is what Amazon has done with “All or Nothing” the past two years.
Both formats present legitimate issues with baseball, though. Following a baseball team over the course of an entire season doesn’t seem feasible. There are just far too many games to cover each week. Part of the reason “Hard Knocks” succeeds is because the show works well within its formula. You get 45 minutes of buildup before the final 15 minutes of the show focuses on one game. How would that work when baseball teams play 5-6 times a week? Are viewers seeing highlights every five minutes? Is the entire week summed up in a 20-minute montage?
A full season format also takes drama out of the equation. Part of the reason “All of Nothing” works is due to the importance of each game. If an NFL team opens the year 0-3, that has a tremendous impact on the players. If a baseball team does the same, there’s no reason to worry.
There’s no easy fix here. You can’t have camera crews visit teams periodically throughout the season, because that would take away the reality factor. If a manager gets fired or a star player goes down with an injury and there’s no one there to document it, it’s probably not worth doing. By the time that episode would come out, fans would have moved past that moment. Shooting the show in real-time is imperative.
OK. So, that format is out. What about a true “Hard Knocks” copy? What if a network tries to follow a baseball team throughout spring training and that’s it?
It certainly works better. There doesn’t have to be as much focus on each individual game. Episodes can highlight player and personality-driven stories instead. Seeing a team meet for the first time and try and come together could be a compelling watch.
Still, it would lack some of the drama associated with “Hard Knocks.” One of the most interesting parts of each season is the episode where players get cut from the team. It’s devastating to see their dreams ripped away from them. It’s a tough watch, but it’s hard to look away.
You just wouldn’t have that with baseball. Guys who don’t make the 25-man roster get sent to the minors. It’s hardly a death sentence for their career. There’s a good chance many of them will make it up at some point later in the year. You may occasionally get a repeat of the Santos reaction, but that seems rare.
That probably means a MLB version of “Hard Knocks” comes down to the players. Without drama to fall back on, personalities would have to emerge and give fans a reason to watch. It’s definitely possible to make this work, but as the last couple iterations have shown, it’s not easy.
If MLB did bring something like this back, would you watch it? And if you did, how long would it keep your attention?
In the right scenario, the “Hard Knocks” format can work in baseball. There’s no doubt about it. But expecting the show to capture that same magic for 12 consecutive seasons without a significant lull? That’s probably asking too much.
More MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports:
– – – – – – –