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

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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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