Welcome to the 208th episode of TV top 5, The Hollywood Reporter‘s TV podcast.
Every week, hosts Lesley Goldberg (West Coast TV editor) and Daniel Fenberg (lead TV reviewer) breaks down the latest TV news with context from the business and critical sides, welcomes showrunners, executives and other guests, and provides a critical guide to what to watch (or skip, as the case may be).
Participate this week Joe Davis, the Dodgers’ play-by-play transmitter that replaced the legendary Vin Scully less than a decade ago. Davis, who joins us linked to the start of the 2023 Major League Baseball season, opens on the mention of the thrilling World Baseball Classic, what the major leagues can learn from the WBC, the league’s new rule changes, and much more.
Other topics during this week TV top 5 include headlines of the week (featuring The Night Agent, Blue Bloods, Grown-ish, Grey’s Anatomy, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Jessica Chastain and The X files); an April TV preview and the return of our monthly Mailbag segment where we answer listener questions about the Emmys, franchises and the future of broadcast. Reminder: If you have a topic you’d like to hear us talk about in a future episode, please email us at [email protected].
But first, read on for an abbreviated portion of our interview with Davis.
We are still reminiscing about the World Baseball Classic and the fact that we finally got that last at bat between Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout. How magical and meaningful was it for you to watch it unfold like this?
I wish I could get a rewind button and then a pause button and go back and pause the moment to fully appreciate it because it happened so quickly. If you’re in the moment and trying to name it, I don’t know if you can really appreciate what you’re looking at. You’re in the Hollywood business; that’s the kind of thing that gets rejected in your realm of the world because it’s unrealistic.
This WBC felt like it drew a lot of attention in a way that previous episodes may not have. Did it feel that way to you too?
It felt the same to me and I hope it’s not just because I’m mentioning it for the first time. I’m optimistic that this will launch it in a very special area.
If you could change the format, what would you do?
Of course you don’t want Edwin Diaz and Jose Altuve to get hurt. You could maybe look at something where you play pool in March and then the semifinals and the championship or even the quarterfinals to the championship you play during what is now the All-Star break. So every three years, maybe you don’t have an All-Star game and you close the season for a week and it becomes a global event. There are no others sport- keep going and you’ll have the attention of the sports world. Think how big it was in March, when you compete in all the other sports, and think how big it could be if you did it in mid-July. That said, if they don’t change anything, I think we’ve seen that it’s fine the way it is.
What would you take from the WBC to record in Major League Baseball?
I’d bring the benches clearing home parties. Every ballplayer and every human being has a kid in them and Major League Baseball, for some reason it’s been a tradition to suppress that. But there’s this buy-in now you can let that kid out. All the guys who were part of the WBC appreciated that part of it. [Dodgers All-Star] Mookie Betts—who won two World Series—told me that the greatest moment of his baseball life was meeting Trea Turner at home plate at that grand slam and having his entire team with him. I would love it if we had parties like that.
You’ve now done the WBC, World Series, and of course Dodger games. What types of games do you prefer to mention?
The World Series still stands alone. I don’t know if I’ll ever do anything better than that. But the WBC went from being in the way of my “real season” to something I enjoyed as much as anything I’ve ever done. I would put the WBC directly below my World Series experience, especially the end of the championship game.
The Dodgers added MLB Network’s Steven Nelson to the roster this season. How many games are you going to call and how much are you doing with Orel Hershiser?
Orel is actually going to do some road races this year. I’m doing fewer Dodger games this year, which is just the nature of my Fox deal. But we will do a lot together and I will still work with the other analysts.
There are many new rules this season, including the addition of a pitch clock as part of a larger effort to improve the pace of play. How does the accelerated pace of the game affect you and your job in the broadcast booth?
I love the pitch clock; I think it will be so good for baseball. After a month you won’t even realize the bells there; you’re just going to feel the benefit of it. As for calling games – and famous last words here for not doing any spring training games with the clock – but I can count on one hand how many times in my career I’ve wished I had more time. I never want more time. Our best send-offs come when the pitchers are working fast and you’re leaning forward in your chair instead of sitting back wondering when the next pitch is coming. The only person who needs more time and deserves more time is Vin Scully, and none of us are Vin Scully, and none of us ever will be, so we don’t need much time between pitches. We need balls in the game and we will tell the stories we are going to tell. It’s the nature of a two-man booth versus what Vin was doing.
After the clock runs out, the team is eliminated, the bases are now giant pizza boxes, and there is a limit to the number of times a pitcher can throw to first. Which of these new rules do you think will make the biggest difference to the game beyond the pitch clock?
Between the pickoff limits and the bigger bases, I think you could see the running game taking off. The shift limit should mean more hits, which is more action. It all leads to more moving pieces and more things to look at. And we’d all rather watch a stolen base and a single and a ball in the hole than a strikeout, cool as it is to see Clayton Kershaw drop a curveball for strike three. The game had drifted a bit and I don’t think that’s good for anyone.
You mentioned Vin Scully and his remarkable ability to tell stories that were always exactly the perfect length of an inning. How do you feel about your own sense of the rhythms of the game and how well do you feel you know how to integrate yourself into those rhythms?
I think I have a good feel and rhythm for the game. I worked very hard at telling stories. I’ve studied it like it’s a discipline and talked to great storytellers and listened to Vin for years. You only get as good as the amount of practice you put in. And I’ve done that for the seven or eight years I’ve been doing this. I’m not Vin and I never will be. But I’d like to think I’m better than last year and much better than eight years ago, but not as good as I was at the end of this year.
The Dodgers recently announced that there would be a Vin Scully installation outside of the press box. It’s hard to escape the shadow of a legend like Vin, especially when the press box is named after him. But is there anything you do every game that you learned from him or do to pay your respect to him?
There’s nothing formal I do. But the appreciation for the role of storytelling in a baseball broadcast came from that 2016 season when Vin just did the home games and I did the road games. We didn’t have a crossover because of the natural schedule difference. But part of my job, of course, was to watch the games that I didn’t. I listened to Vin every minute of every home game. And as a fan, I loved listening to his stories. I knew if I loved it that storytelling would be the expectation of Dodger fans because it’s all they’ve had since the team’s been in LA and I knew I had to include it. We are a storyteller. We all want to hear stories and know that these players are a bit like us. Telling stories is a way to make them more human. That seed was planted by appreciating the way Vin did his job.
You had the incredibly difficult job of telling Dodger fans on a game broadcast against the Giants that Vin had died. I remember watching and feeling it was one of the most emotional baseball games I’ve ever seen because you told story after story about Vin the whole game. How do you look back on the way you handled it?
I knew how crushing it would be for everyone that Vin had passed. I didn’t fully appreciate my role in getting the message across at the time. I considered it a great responsibility to be the first to praise him. I didn’t realize that until after the game that night when I saw I had hundreds of text messages and emails from people. I knew this would hit people hard. I knew I had to praise him well. I just didn’t realize what it would mean for people to praise him well. We were very proud of what we were able to do that night.
Was that something you prepared for?
No. We knew things weren’t going well for Vin. But I found out in the bottom of the third inning that he had passed away and when we came back we knew the Dodgers social media account would post the news and then we decided to announce it on the air. From then on, it was a night of trying to balance the game – fitting that they were playing the Giants when this happened – and do justice to the greatest baseball broadcaster that ever lived. Vin had already praised someone on the air before. But it’s not like there’s a blueprint for this. But there was a blueprint to balance the serious and the game, because Vin would go in and out of that every night. So he probably inspired me without necessarily thinking about it, just from everything I learned through osmosis from listening to him.
TV top 5 is, of course, a television podcast – except when we surprise our listeners by talking about baseball. So we have to ask: have you looked Brockmire?
I’ve already seen two episodes of it. I had the chance to be on an episode and it just didn’t fit my schedule. I think I would like it. It’s probably a little gross for my wife, from what I’ve seen on it.
For more from Davis, including his thoughts on great baseball movies that should become TV shows, listen to the full interview in this week’s segment five TV top 5.
Then be sure to subscribe TV top 5 to never miss an episode again. (Reviews are welcome!) You can also email us with topics or mailbag questions you’d like to see covered in future episodes at [email protected].