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Brace For The Attack of the Docuseries

“With ESPN announcing a forthcoming Tom Brady docuseries, Jay Mariotti says there will be a relentless succession of sports vanity projects, with “The Last Dance’’ mastering the blueprint of how an iconic athlete can shape how he’s remembered forevermore.”

Jay Mariotti

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I knew it. This was as inevitable as Lori Loughlin in an orange jumpsuit. Michael Jordan barely had stopped smirking and forehead-scrunching in the final money scene of “The Last Dance’’ — watching the video where Jerry Reinsdorf says Jerry Krause would have built another title team had Jordan not retired — when the news arrived from ESPN headquarters.

Tom Brady, the untold story!

Look, I love a compelling, life-interrupting documentary series as much as the other 5.6 million people who tuned in each of the past five Sundays. In fact, I’ve gravitated to the art form myself while living in Los Angeles, where the sales pitch, bankroll and Beverly Hills lunch quotient better be as good as the script. But as I ponder ESPN’s Lance Armstrong doc the next two Sundays, ESPN’s Bruce Lee doc the following Sunday and ESPN’s Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa doc the Sunday after that — along with the dozens of docs running in regular rotation on various media channels and streams — I’m worried I might need to call a doc if ESPN and other broadcast groups dilute a booming concept with doc overkill.

It’s no surprise that the Brady production, due for release next year, borrows directly from the massively successful Jordan opus. This is the formulaic sequel in what will be a relentless succession of sports vanity projects, with “The Last Dance’’ mastering the blueprint of how an iconic athlete can shape how he’s remembered forevermore. Like Jordan, Team Brady will control all content — never, ever was he involved in deflating footballs, OK? — while ESPN, now clearly immersed in manufacturing and buffing iconic legacies rather than covering them professionally, will provide the wide-berth platforms with expectations of a profit bonanza. Brady and his hand-picked director, Gotham Chopra, will use their nine episodes — the series is titled “The Man in the Arena: Tom Brady’’ — to tell his life story exactly how he wants it conveyed, just as Jordan did. He’ll use his company, 199 Productions (did you know he was the 199th pick in the draft?), to protect the Brady narrative against any truthful interludes by evil journalistic types, just as Jordan did with his Jump 23 initiative and two business confidantes as executive producers.

And Brady will anticipate the same record ratings, critical acclaim and popularity bounce of Jordan, who in one month reaffirmed his place as the greatest basketball player ever and the all-time sports showman, endorser and celebrity.

Tom Brady announces he's leaving New England, opens door for NY Jets

“Through the series, we’re defining the key moments and challenges that were seemingly insurmountable, but through hard work and perseverance, became career-defining triumphs, in both victory and defeat,” said Brady, who will tell the stories of his nine Super Bowl runs, six triumphant and three not.

So who’s going to give Brady the cruel lowdown? I will: His enterprise has as much chance of matching “The Last Dance,’’ or even approaching its impact, as the laundry list of pathetic victims taken down by Jordan throughout his series. There certainly are similarities in their stories — both are maniacally driven to vanquish doubters … both were linked with old-school authority figures who interfered with their demands for creative autonomy … both were thrust into systems … both won six championships … and both abandoned dynasties out of principle. But Tom Brady is not beloved, as the face of a scandal-smeared New England monolith loathed by much of America.

Michael Jordan is admired, beloved internationally, 6-0 in the NBA Finals and somehow immune to scandalous fallout. “Teflon,’’ says his agent, David Falk. His TV spectacle rocked the planet thanks to a confluence of factors, not the least of which was a global pandemic that left us in solitary confinement with our devices, big screens and junk food. Having covered the Bulls extravaganza as a Chicago columnist, I knew this nostalgic burst would mesmerize millennials and Gen Zers who knew of the Jordan name and maybe bought the Jordan shoes but never had experienced Jordan the basketball miracle. I wrote a column before the docu-series aired, hoping “The Last Dance’’ would be remembered for more than the usual retro rehash — Jordan’s obsessive appetite to conquer flash and blood — and that it would cover all elements of the most exhilarating and elaborate sports story ever told. See how many of my boxes were checked during the 10 episodes:

ESPN Sees Double Digit Viewership Increases for “The Last Dance ...

Competitive rage. Global overload. Gambling. Murder. In-house treachery. A pop-culture explosion. Celebrity fawning. Corporate exploitation. Political aloofness. Sneaker frenzy. A mysterious baseball interlude. And characters as diverse as ‘90s life itself: a brooding sidekick, a free-love coach, a feather-boa-wearing freak show, a grumpy general manager who poisoned the joy instead of embracing it, and an insufferable owner who was stingy with well-deserved financial rewards and couldn’t wait to launch his own dynasty, which since has become a travesty.

Indeed, all of those topics were touched upon by director Jason Hehir, many expertly. But others were purposely downplayed, such as a gambling problem that Jordan was allowed to dismiss as “a hobby’’ and political indifference that Jordan justified thusly: “I never thought of myself as an activist. I thought of myself as a basketball player.’’ In a journalistic vein, then, “The Last Dance’’ cannot be viewed as a definitive work or Oscar-worthy film in any sense, as noted documentarian Ken Burns told the Wall Street Journal. On the likelihood of Jordan pouring over every nanosecond of the production before approving it, the way he shook down any player who remotely dissed him, Burns said: “If you are there influencing the very fact of it getting made, it means that certain aspects that you don’t necessarily want in aren’t going to be in, period. And that’s not the way you do good journalism, and it’s certainly not the way you do good history, my business. … I find it the opposite direction of where we need to be going.’’

Too late for that. The Airness is out of the balloon, and fans starved for coronavirus escapism loved it. Every touchy topic was tilted Jordan’s way — he didn’t have gambling problems, anyone who connected his father’s murder to gambling was vile, Krause was an inept clown even though he’s no longer with us, Reinsdorf refused to fix the rampant dysfunction, and Jordan naturally was joking when he said “Republicans buy sneakers, too.’’ As for the critics who’ve called him a tyrant — I introduced the word in a Jordan context in the ‘90s —  “The Last Dance’’ enabled him to come off like a heroic war general when, fighting off tears, he defended his bullying, berating and punching tactics, which wouldn’t work in the 21st century without teammates quitting and management trading him.

“I mean, winning has a price. And leadership has a price. So I pulled people along when they didn’t want to be pulled. I challenged people when they don’t want to be challenged. And I earned that right because my teammates came after me. They didn’t endure all the things that I endured,’’ Jordan said. “Once you join the team, you live at a certain standard that I play the game, and I wasn’t going to take anything less. Now, if that means I have to go in there and get in your (expletive) a little bit, then I did that.

“You ask all my teammates, the one thing about Michael Jordan was he never asked me to do something that he didn’t (expletive) do. When people see this they’re going to say, `Well he wasn’t really a nice guy. He may have been a tyrant. Oh-oh.’ Well that’s you, because you never won anything. I wanted to win, but I wanted them to win and be a part of that, as well. Look I don’t have to do this (film). I’m only doing it because it is who I am. That’s how I play the game. That was my mentality. If you don’t want to play that way, don’t play that way.”

Agree or disagree with his leadership philosophies, or Hehir’s obedient reluctance to further examine the controversies, it still was priceless theater. Just as riveting: how Jordan continues to harbor grudges decades later, even though he has beaten down all challenges and accomplished almost everything imaginable in sports and life, including his current standing as World Sneaker King. “The Last Dance’’ was advertised as a celebration of Jordan and the Bulls. But even his trusted partner in championship crime, Scottie Pippen, is bitter because of his portrayal — including Jordan’s needless reference to Pippen’s reputation-damaging migraine headache in the early ‘90s. And ex-teammate Horace Grant called out Jordan as a liar for saying Grant was a primary leak for “The Jordan Rules,’’ a book that condemned Jordan. “A downright, outright, (complete) lie,’’ said Grant, who could have mentioned that Phil Jackson and Reinsdorf were presumed to be bigger leaks given their friendship with author Sam Smith, who currently is paid by Reinsdorf as a reporter for Bulls.com. All the while, Jordan sits alone in his chair, a cigar in one hand and a mixed drink in the other, still tortured all these years later.

I cannot imagine the Brady documentary producing even a fraction of such drama. He isn’t nearly as complicated or outspoken as Jordan, and while he did let loose with Howard Stern a few weeks back, Brady is likely to take higher roads even when discussing conflicts with Bill Belichick. Chances are, “The Man in the Arena’’ also will be an infomercial for his health and wellness brand, TB12, which Brady already has exploited in his new NFL home, Tampa Bay, by filing for two trademarks: “Tompa Bay’’ and “Tampa Brady’’ (both sharing his initials TB). The other day, Brady seemed to tap into the public’s pandemic fears by releasing a new supplement that included references to “immune-boosting nutrients’’ and “immune system recovery.’’ Dr. Tom is sounding more like a quack every day, and I’d rather eat two-year-old Spam than Brady’s avocado ice cream.

Did LeBron James' Production Company Play a Part in Lakers Deal?

We all know what’s coming next. LeBron James, who came to Hollywood to make movies, already must be plotting his docu-series rebuttal to Jordan, who did not include James in his docu-series. Kevin Durant, armed with a production company, will want a docu-series that allows him to tear apart Draymond Green and all things Golden State and Oklahoma City. Chris Paul will have his company gloss over his playoff failures in his docu-series. Aaron Rodgers will wait for the Packers to trade him to dump on them in his docu-series. Odell Beckham Jr. will want his docu-series. Antonio Brown will want his docu-series. Conor McGregor will want his docu-series. Trump will want his docu-series. Anthony Fauci will want his docu-series, and so will the Fauci bobblehead doll.

No one should forget the lessons of TV history. For every all-the-rage show, there is a spinoff that bombs out.

“Friends’’ had “Joey.’’

“Hill Street Blues’’ had “Beverly Hills Buntz.’’

And “Happy Days’’ had “Joanie Loves Chachi.’’

ESPN executive Connor Schell says the company is “thinking about how to evolve the genre and new ways to tell these stories and new hooks. And the access to Tom Brady is unique.”

Please don’t think too much. Because if I see a docu-series on Lenny Dykstra, I’m going to be drinking whatever Jordan is drinking.

Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ is the host of “Unmuted,’’ a frequent podcast about sports and life (Apple, Podbean, etc.). He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio host. As a Los Angeles resident, he gravitated by osmosis to movie projects. He appears Wednesday nights on The Dino Costa Show, a segment billed as “The Rawest Hour in Sports Broadcasting.’’

BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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