Not too long ago I was a panelist on MLB Live discussing the national pastime with host Brian Kenny, reporter Joel Sherman, and former Major Leaguer Pedro Martinez. My appearances on MLB Network were a dream come true – talking baseball with pros who actually respected my opinion.
At the end of this particular show, baseball super fan and Emmy winning director Ken Burns came on to discuss his latest film and his beloved Boston Red Sox. When it comes to TV documentaries, there's no one better. I was in TV/baseball heaven.
This week, baseball returns marking the start of spring, and Ken Burns has a new documentary about Benjamin Franklin. As Sammy Hagar famously sang, you get the best of both worlds.
Two of my greatest passions are TV and baseball. I've made an actual career out of commenting on both along with other facets of pop culture. I attribute this to my late father who lived and breathed the Dodgers (Brooklyn, then LA) and broke the parental rule of sitting your child in front of the TV.
I admit these staples aren't what they once were. There's never been more TV to choose from, but the staleness of network programming and proliferation of "housewives" to exploit, "nature versus" to battle, and "reality dating" situations gets tedious. (Those quotes are deliberate - these shows are scripted yet presented as "real.") Streamers and pay cable manage to keep the creative spirit alive.
As for baseball, it has done all it can to alienate its dwindling fan base. Billionaire owners locking out millionaire players this year could not have been more tone deaf. The game's pace is slow, the season is long, and the teams with the big money are left standing at the end.
But I keep coming back for more, and nostalgia is what's tugging at my heartstrings. There's so much rich history in television and baseball to devour as both continue to evolve. The best example of these worlds colliding is Ken Burns award winning documentary Baseball. It'll pop up on your local PBS affiliate when they're looking for donations, or MLB Network airs it to eat up programming hours. It's top-notch documentary filmmaking telling the story of the game.
Ken Burns is as close to a sure thing that there is when it comes to new programming. This Monday, his latest project Benjamin Franklin premieres at 8pm on PBS. It's a four-hour look at the ultimate multitasker who earned his place on the hundred-dollar bill.
Benjamin Franklin has all the Ken Burns staples. The music, photography, insight, storytelling, and subtle humor are all there. You'll learn more about Ben Franklin watching this than you did in all your years of schooling. This guy made flying a kite interesting!
As for baseball, it needs to win its fans back after haggling over millions of dollars and shortening spring training. Opening Day is a magical time when spring has sprung as your favorite team takes the field. Sunday Night Baseball returns on ESPN with, surprise, the New York Yankees playing the Boston Red Sox.
Ken Burns might be happy seeing this matchup, but I don't need to see these two high-payroll rivals again. If the former national pastime wants to inject some energy into the sport, showcase some new stars and different teams on a national level. Get out of the same-old-game trap.
A new Ken Burns documentary. Baseball is back. Now all we need is the weather to cooperate.
Here's what else is worth watching this week...
Tokyo Vice (HBO Max) Thursday, April 7th
Michael Mann has come back to the small screen. This ten-part drama from the acclaimed director chronicles an American reporter covering the police in Tokyo. I don't expect a Japanese Crockett and Tubbs.
There's no doubt that this will be visually stunning, and Japanese crime stories are often layered with notable twists and turns. I can't wait to see how Mann's cinematic storytelling translates to a different medium with Ansel Elgort in his first TV role. Watch trailer.
61st Street (AMC) Sunday, April 10th 10pm
A black high school athlete is the target of Chicago cops and lawyers who seek revenge from a drug bust gone wrong and the death of a policeman. The Chicago criminal justice system is always fertile ground for complicated cases which often send the wrong people to jail.
AMC has already picked up the show for a second season. It features a powerhouse cast with Courtney B. Vance and Aunjanue Ellis at the helm. Watch trailer.
Jimmy Saville - A British Horror Story (Netflix) – One of the UK’s most beloved TV personalities passes away leading to an investigation of hundreds of allegations of sexual abuse and very young victims. Wednesday. Watch trailer.
THIS WEEK’S STIHTGT! (Shows That I Hope To Get To!)
The Invisible Pilot (HBO) – A pilot commits suicide and there's a government conspiracy about drug smuggling and gun running. Monday at 9pm.
A Black Lady Sketch Show (HBO) – The critically acclaimed late nighter returns for its third season. Friday at 11pm.
Kids Choice Awards (Nickelodeon) – See which movie star is willing to get slimed to promote their new project. Saturday at 7:30pm.
GREATEST HITS (Really Good Shows You May Have Missed)
This Week's Pick: For All Mankind (Apple TV+) – Apple TV+'s biggest problem is its programming - and not being able to find it. The Morning Show was overrated and overhyped. Meanwhile, this space epic somehow got lost in the Apple shuffle. The premise is simple - what if the Russians got to the moon first? The cast, writing and effects are top notch and pull off the tricky premise of NASA playing catch up.
Previous Picks: Abbott Elementary (ABC) Damages (Hulu) Luther (HBO Max) Downton Abbey (Netflix) Justified (Hulu) The Good Wife (Paramount+) Freaks & Geeks (Hulu) Patriot (Amazon Prime Video) Battlestar Galactica (Peacock) The Split (Amazon Prime Video) Bordertown (Netflix) Halt and Catch Fire (AMC+)
If you love or hate my picks, I'd love to hear from you.
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