Necessity is the mother of invention. Game broadcasts, long due for a reinvention, have been forced into new frontiers in the COVID world, to mixed results. Hope springs eternal that the best ideas will rise to the top and be implemented in some way, shape or form if America ever returns to a semblance of normalcy. MLB Network is trying out some new-fangled things this week culminating in a Friday night presentation of the Milwaukee Brewers-Chicago Cubs game that will marry the on-field action with elements of the Emmy-winning MLB Tonight studio show.
It's always best to let people closest to the vision explain it, so here goes.
"At different points of the night and in trademark MLB Tonight style, the telecast will shift to a two-box format and whip around to live look-ins of key moments from other games across Major League Baseball. Greg Amsinger, Dan Plesac and Harold Reynolds, who have been part of the MLB Tonight lineup since 2009, will do rapid demonstrations on key plays from the game in Studio 42, MLB Network’s replica baseball field studio, and they will host in-game interviews with personnel from the Brewers and Cubs throughout the game. MLB Network reporter Jon Morosi will also contribute to the telecast on-site from Wrigley Field."
And now, some perhaps unearned personal privilege and celebration.
This idea is long overdue and one that I've been advocating for unsuccessfully — because who reads this site anyway — for a number of years. Back in 2018 during a sadly unheeded proposal for a reimagined ESPN Sunday Night Baseball, I wondered if we couldn't take some of the great elements of Baseball Tonight, This Week in Baseball, and MLB Tonight and weave them into a single-game broadcast. It felt both obvious and pie-in-the-sky at the same time.
But now it's here. Or at least the closest thing to the platonic ideal in my mind. So why now?
"We have thought about doing this for a while and we think now is the perfect time," senior vice president of production Dave Patterson told The Big Lead. "We have been producing a lot of remote MLB Network Showcase telecasts this season, so why not try this? It’s an opportunity to try something different."
Said Amsinger: "This has been a dream of mine since MLB Network launched in 2009 as we've changed the way fans consume baseball: Here's your game, we don’t want to take that away, but let us make sure you're up to speed on every other game while we entertain you with all our resources from our great studio team."
There is widespread excitement about the ability to show, not just tell, as there will be ample opportunities for demonstrative demonstration. Space will be explored in unique ways, a la a second-year improv class at your local theater.
"We’re equipped for this," Reynolds said. "We’ve rewritten the code for how viewers watch baseball as we dive deep inside games with demos, breakdowns and live-looks. When you’re sitting in the booth and doing a game - and I've done many - the one piece that is missing is to take fans onto the field and show them what you’re explaining. Whether it be about infield positioning, relay transfers, leg-kicks, I now can walk right from Studio 3 to Studio 42 and explain it."
Hitting the right note will be a challenge as more bells and whistles come with the danger of overpowering the game taking place at Wrigley. Patterson explains that they'll be using the spiced-up features to flavor. At a certain point sprinkling can become over-seasoning. Just ask Frank Costanza.
"Viewers are sophisticated," Patterson said. "I think they’re always looking for something different and out-of-the-box. We have the technology and opportunity to do that right now, but you have to be sensitive and mindful to not clutter up the screen. You don’t want to take away from the main objective, which is to show the game at hand."
With second-screen viewing becoming the norm and the momentum trending more toward a third screen than reverting back to a single, it's incumbent on baseball and its television partners to make the game interesting enough for younger, fast-twitch eyeballs. There have been baby steps in recent seasons but Friday will present the first real chance to take a holistic approach to merging ballpark and studio.
Some of us have been waiting on this for a long time.
No pressure, gang. It's only the future of baseball on television riding on this. Okay, that's a bit hyperbolic, but it'll be an absolute game-changer if it works.