The MLB Network Is Taking Shape

Joe Torre

We've known for a while that Major League Baseball was following in the footsteps of the NBA, NFL and NHL by taking the plunge into buying their own cable channel. The channel is expected to be available by next season, and unlike all the hoops you may have to jump through to get the offerings put forth by some of the other leagues, MLB has gone through great lengths to ensure the average fan will have easy access.

Consider this: the New York Times reports that the MLB Network will have 50 million subscribers from Day 1. The NFL Network, on the other hand, debuted with just 12 million subscribers in 2003 and took three whole years to build their base to 41 million subscribers.

Baseball fans who are excited about the network will probably want to read that entire NY Times article, which details the progress MLB is making in building its $54 million studio and offers some details about the programming, which will include a flagship "MLB Tonight" show that airs nightly from 7pm to 1am offering live updates and highlights.

If done correctly, "MLB Tonight" could easily top ESPN's "Baseball Tonight" in terms of being the must-watch show for fans, especially considering it'll have control of two robotic cameras installed in each stadium, theoretically giving viewers a different angle for highlights not found anywhere else. But what will the network show the other 18 hours a day?

Last year Scott Boras suggested a made-for-TV awards ceremony instead the remarkably lame way MLB announces things now, which is through a simple press release. And when MLB first announced the network in April 2007, MLB VP Tim Brosnan suggested it could show minor league games and Japanese games, as well as (gulp) a reality TV show.

The best idea I've heard, though, comes from my FanHouse colleague Craig Calcaterra, who described it at his personal blog Shysterball:

The premise: a half hour travel show in which our intrepid host is plopped down in a Major League city for a weekend. The centerpiece of each show, obviously, is to go to a game or three, giving viewers the taste of the Los Angeles Dodgers experience or the Kansas City Royals experience, or whatever. He -- along with a local contact/friend/guide perhaps -- will visit the best places to hang out before and after the games. He'll find the best real world (i.e. non-VIP) seats and talk about the stadium and stuff. Overall, he'll do his best to convey the history, flavor, and general milieu of a given team, its park, its fans, and its city.

If this sounds somewhat familiar to some of you cable geeks, it's because what I'm basically picturing is Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" show, but for baseball.

I think it's brilliant. I love those types of shows, whether it's Bourdain's "No Reservation," Zane Lamprey's Three Sheets or Dave Attell's Insomniac (which sadly was prematurely canceled four years ago). You'd need the right kind of host to keep the feel of the show authentic (a corny This Week in Baseball production wouldn't cut it), but I definitely think it's something fans would respond to.

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