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Media column: Marlins' reality series good, but could be better


Showtime billed this Marlins reality series as “groundbreaking,” suggesting it would lift sports reality television to a new level.

File that under “overselling your product.”

Is The Franchise fun television, worthy of 30 minutes of your week? Absolutely.

Is it extraordinary television? Not quite.

Aside from several noteworthy exchanges involving team executives and owner Jeffrey Loria or manager Ozzie Guillen, much of the content has been light-hearted fare: a medley of field-level replays of big hits, breezy vignettes about players and their families, and comments from talk show hosts that essentially serve as transition between topics.

In Wednesday’s second of eight episodes, Showtime provided an inside look at Giancarlo Stanton’s knee surgery (not recommended for those with queasy stomachs) and invited us inside Justin Ruggiano’s home.

We accompanied Logan Morrison (the show’s most amusing subject, aside from Guillen), his girlfriend and mother on an All-Star break trip to Kansas City, where Morrison met idol George Brett, then later poked fun at himself for repeatedly using the word “absolutely” during their conversation. Morrison shook hands with Derek Jeter when he came off an escalator, then muttered: “He has no idea who I am. No clue.”

Showtime clearly aims to appeal to a wider audience that serious seamheads. The result has been a program that’s usually entertaining, but not quite as enlightening as expected.

One disappointment is that Showtime hasn’t offered a single clip of Marlins executives discussing specific trade offers or players they would consider targeting.

It would have been fascinating to watch executives Larry Beinfest or Michael Hill negotiate with Houston on the Carlos Lee trade, but all we saw was Hill calling Loria to tell him the trade was official. Big deal! Or as Guillen might say, “Big [bleeping] deal.”

Players told reporters how surprised and impressed they were when Hanley Ramirez spoke passionately in a team meeting last month. But Showtime aired none of that, instead opting for a clip of Greg Dobbs telling four teammates that it’s satisfying to play the game the right way. (You don’t say?)

Ramirez’s failure to fulfill expectations has been largely overlooked, even though it’s a significant reason for the Marlins’ predicament. Showtime didn’t bother mentioning Ramirez cutting his hand, on a fan, in frustration (to Guillen’s dismay) and inexplicably has passed, so far, on airing a clip in which Ramirez’s agent asked for a contract extension, and team president David Samson remarking later that this wasn’t exactly the best time to make that request.

Another huge omission: Ignoring Josh Johnson’s disappointing first 3 ½ months.

The first episode smartly devoted considerable time to Heath Bell’s problems but failed to mention his blown save in the last game before the All-Star break – a watershed moment that cost him his closer’s job and one that happened 77 hours before the program aired, more than enough time to incorporate it.

Some of the production decisions have been questionable, including spending a few minutes on a softball game between the wives of Marlins and Rays players, and catcher Brett Hayes’ wife taking practice swings. That time could have been better allocated.

The Franchise offers its most gripping television when it allows us to eavesdrop in private conversations. A half dozen, or so, have clearly stood out.

We saw Bell telling Guillen: “I feel nobody has my back here,” and Guillen responding: “You are [bleeping] wrong. I am the only one who believes in you.”

We saw Samson asking Guillen if he keeps using Bell because he’s earning $9 million. “No [bleeping] way!” Guillen said. “That’s your [bleeping] fault.”

We saw Guillen asking Hill: “Do we just [bleeping] got a horse [bleep] team and I don’t know it?” Responded Hill: “Maybe we’re just not as good as we thought.”

We saw Samson telling Guillen he was suspended five games for the Fidel Castro fiasco, and Guillen responding passively.

We saw Hill and Samson, on the day the Marlins traded for Lee, telling Gaby Sanchez he was being sent to the minors after Sanchez hit a game-tying home run in the ninth, and Sanchez quickly shuffling out of the room.

All compelling stuff. But if Showtime’s access is as incredible as it claims, viewers should be seeing more closed-doors conversations that go beyond team executives merely lamenting this mess, but actually discussing ways to fix it. (We presume those conversations are happening, but Showtime has aired nary a word of them.)

The Franchise can be absorbing at times, but based on the expectations that Showtime set, we’re left craving more “A” material, considering the access Showtime has been given, and considering Guillen provides more spicy sound bites than anybody in his sport.

### Quick news note: Craig James, who left ESPN in January to run for a U.S. Senate seat in Texas, wants to return to television after finishing fourth in a nine-man Republican primary race. ESPN doesn’t want him back, so he’s exploring other options. Former Georgia and Bengals defensive end David Pollack will replace James alongside ex-Gator Jesse Palmer in ESPN’s Thursday night college football booth.