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In a Flyover State: Liverpool FC: Terrible Team, Great Television

9/10/2012 12:01:00 AM Eastern

As I sat down to write this piece last week, the New York
Yankees had lost three straight and seven of their last 10.
While nothing could make me happier than the Evil Empire
falling apart, the media was going absolutely crazy over the
Yanks’ struggles. Talk radio was abuzz and the smoke of uncontrollable
hype was pouring from the Internet, as if the
world was ending just as baseball entered the pennant races.

But that’s nothing; believe me. You should
see what’s going on across the pond in Liverpool.
The legendary Liverpool FC, one of the
most storied soccer teams in the world, is on
fire. As in burning down. The team had not
won a single game this season as of the time
I wrote this. It surprisingly just dumped one
of its most high-profile players, and surreally
replaced him with…nobody. The
national media couldn’t stop talking
and writing about this massive
catastrophe. Things got so
out of hand that the ownership
group had to write an open letter
to the fans.

And all this happened a mere
four games into the season. Four
games
. Even George Steinbrenner
used to give managers more time
than that…usually.

Welcome to the ridiculous
world of soccer in the United
Kingdom.

But I don’t need to tell you
about it, you can see for yourself.
On Sept. 16, Fox will debut Being:
Liverpool
, a Hard Knocks-like docu-series
about a franchise for which failure is simply
not acceptable. After the premiere on Fox, the
show moves to Fox Soccer Channel for five
more episodes. And you will want to follow.

I was at a Liverpool home game last week.
It’s hard to describe the passion around that
club. I don’t care how many times I’ve been
there and bathed in the pregame ritual: When
the 45,276 faithful packed into the team’s historic
stadium join together and sing “You’ll
Never Walk Alone,” goose bumps have never
failed to make themselves known.

I’ve been at Liverpool’s Anfield for glorious
wins, most recently two seasons ago when local
hero Steven Gerrard scored three goals to
lead a timeless come-from-behind win over
a powerful Italian team. So to see the team
looking this bad was shocking.

But equally surprising was the access given
to the cameras for the new show. Gerrard and
the team’s manager (don’t call him a coach,
that’s the word for a bus over there) literally
open their homes to viewers. Through
the show, fans can get access to everything
from the manager’s pep talk before a game to
Liverpool’s players meeting with the Boston
Red Sox during a trip to the States.

Perhaps the Red Sox meeting is fitting, as
not only are both teams owned by the same
people, but both are once-proud, currently
struggling franchises. In fact, a fun wager
over a pint or three may be to guess whether
Boston manager Bobby Valentine or Liverpool’s
Brendan Rodgers ends up getting the
sack (a.k.a. fired) first.

Any show in this genre will be compared to
the standard-bearing Hard Knocks of course.
And from a production and access standpoint,
this holds up surprisingly well. Only
a few problems stick out. One, you may have
some trouble picking up the thicker accents.
I don’t think it needs subtitles à la the deplorable
Honey Boo Boo, so I’d suggest either
drinking a couple of Guinnesses (what is the
plural of Guinness, anyway?) or simply having
the rewind button ready.

Second is just the timeliness factor. The
first episode is based on filming from the
late summer, so fans will already know the
outcome of some of the issues, such as when
Rodgers says he wouldn’t get rid
of the star player that was just
sold to another club last week.
But the show will eventually take
fans through England’s version of
the trade deadline that passed last
week, so viewers will have to be
patient. For now, I’d suggest the
network air a pre- and post-show
studio show to put what viewers
are seeing in more current context,
which would also make it
more of an event.

Shows airing on Fox Soccer
Channel historically could never
stand up to bigger outlets from
a production standpoint. I know
this firsthand, as I once worked
on the production side for the network, and
any place that would hire me can’t be that
good.

But with this new show, FSC is showing—
in the run-up to News Corp. taking over
World Cup TV rights from ESPN—that it can
turn things around. Now we’ll see firsthand
if Liverpool can do the same. I just hope the
Yankees don’t.

E-mail comments to
bgrossman@nbmedia.com and follow him on
Twitter: @BCBenGrossman

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