Showtime on Monday posted the entire first episode of its reality series — or whatever you want to call it — about the Giants.
Episode 2 will be aired for the premium-cable-advantaged at 10 p.m. tonight. And here’s an interview with the show’s executive producer by The California Report’s Scott Shafer, conducted before the first episode aired. The audio is followed by an edited transcript. Interview With Executive Producer of show Mike Tolan [audio:http://ww2.kqed.org/news/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2011/07/giantsshowtime.mp3|titles=giantsshowtime]
Why did you pick the Giants for a topic? I think when we made the decision it was really about storytelling and characters. If you’re going to do a weekly series, scripted or unscripted, ultimately the audience will decide if they want to come back every week based on how compelling the characters and storylines are. With the Giants, you have a fascinating and colorful collection of characters. This is not the best team money can buy, not the team with each player in the clubhouse representing their own brand, as is the case with some east coast teams that will remain nameless. We were really looking for a combination of characters that the audience would find entertaining, and a group that would give us the kind of access that we need to tell stories that would be honest and candid and fresh.
So the decision to go after the Giants and center around them was made before they had that trophy on the mantle. We started having that discussion last fall and it was clear they were going to be a factor in the postseason. But they hadn’t yet won the championship when I started having a dialogue with Larry Baer. It went on for a series of months. There was a lot of buy-in to make this work, as you can imagine, great sensitivities from Major League Baseball, the Players Association, Brian Sabean, Larry Baer and Bill Neukom from a front-office perspective. Certainly Bruce Bochy and his players. That ultimately was the deciding factor. They had to be comfortable, they had to understand our agenda and be willing to trust us, that we wouldn’t violate the sanctity of the clubhouse, we wouldn’t cross that line. It took a number of months, and there were some rocky patches along the way until we all decided to dip our toes and take a shot.
How do you pull out interesting stuff from baseball players, who are often masters of the cliché and guard their privacy?
When you start with a team that has Brian Wilson as a closer, there’s a reasonably good chance that you’re going to transcend the cliché. Brian Wilson sets a tenor for the clubhouse in a certain way. He is beyond unguarded. He is always searching for the new and the different, not to say that he does it just to tittilate, that’s just who he is. He has an enormous amount of fun in his dealing with the media. I was at the ESPYs and there he was in all his glory; I can’t even describe the outfit. I’m guessing they didn’t put him up to it, I’m guessing he suggested ‘what if I wear this and do this and say this?’
The bullpen is often a treasure trove of content. I’ve been making baseball-related films for almost three decades. I was the writer/producer for the Phillies World Series championship film in 1980, I’ve been doing it for awhile. The bullpen guys are hanging out with not much to do for most of the game, and there’ s a lot of free time, a lot of idleness. We once had a cookout in the bullpen on a Phillies farm team; they had a marshmallow roast in the bullpen while the game was going on. So it was natural for us to gravitate to the bullpen not just because of the presence of Brian Wilson, but because of guys like Romo, Affeldt, and Lopez, who have proven to be a great source of material and have helped us go beyond the cliché. And the stakes are high. I don’t want to overstate what we’re doing. But we are moving the needle a little bit in that we’re shooting during the regular season, as they try to defend their World Series title and win another pennant. So to go back to the premise of interesting characters and storylines, you’ve got that built in. It’s more documentary than reality series. One of the stumbling blocks early on, when you say reality show, people understandably run for cover, saying what is the agenda? So what we had to do is make people realize that we are baseball guys who understand the sanctity of the clubhouse and the magnitude of what’s going on and the opportunity we’ve been given. And we’re documentary filmmakers, that’s my background in the business. Fly on the wall, cinema verite, stand back and let it unfold.
One of the most dramatic moments in the season so far is the injury to Buster Posey. Devastating to him and to the Giants, but to you its luck in a sense, because it’s a great story. How did you navigate that with the team?
Tricky. The Buster Posey incident presents as you said a great opportunity for storytelling, but at same time it’s catastrophic for the team. And when you get involved in a project like this you kind of become part of the team. You’re pulling for these guys; you have to stay non-partisan in your storytelling and filmmaking, but you can’t help but be drawn to these guys, such a lovable cast of characters. So the first response is that it’s horrific and hard to watch, you feel for Buster, the team, and Bochy. In fact when we were discussing how to handle our treatment t of the injury, we recalled that in the 1980 playoffs Pete Rose came barreling into Bochy, the catcher for the Astros. But you have to quickly put aside your hurts feelings and jump into action and navigate those choppy waters and try to get as broad a cross-section as possible. This became a great source of controversy. For about a week or two in baseball this was topic No 1, discussing the injury and the notion that perhaps there should be a change in the rules, should runners be allowed to barrel into catchers full-force. Bruce Bochy had a lot to say about it, Brian Sabean had a lot to say about it, so did a lot of players. Was Scott Cousins a villain or was he just doing his job? Ultimately both Sabean and Bochy had very strong comments and it was our job to include them but also to include their response to others comments and to their own. When the dust settled, there’s Buster Posey coming back to the clubhouse for rehab, wheeling around on this strange contraption, which is really difficult to watch, the fallen hero. And Buster was great about granting us time and giving us his reflections. So we covered all the bases and at this point we will continue to follow Buster’s rehab over the next five episodes.