Welcome to the 208th episode of TV’s Top 5, The Hollywood Reporter’s TV podcast.
Every week, hosts Lesley Goldberg (West Coast TV editor) and Daniel Fienberg (chief TV critic) break down the latest TV news with context from the business and critical sides, welcome showrunners, executives and other guests, and provide a critical guide of what to watch (or skip, as the case may be).
Joining us this week is Joe Davis, the Dodgers play-by-play broadcaster who replaced the legendary Vin Scully less than a decade ago. Davis, who joins us pegged to the start of the 2023 Major League Baseball season, opens up about calling the thrilling World Baseball Classic, what the big leagues can learn from the WBC, the league’s new rule changes and so much more.
Other topics during this week’s TV’s 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 in which 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 discuss in a future episode, email us at TVsTop5@THR.com.
But first, read on for a condensed portion of our interview with Davis.
We’re still buzzing from the World Baseball Classic and the fact that we ended up getting that final at-bat between Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout. How magical and significant was it for you to see it unfold like this?
I wish that 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 fast. When you’re in the moment trying to call it, I don’t know if you can properly appreciate what you’re watching. You guys are in the Hollywood business; that’s the kind of stuff that gets turned down in your realm of the world because it’s unrealistic.
This WBC felt as if it was catching buzz in a way that maybe previous installments hadn’t. Did it feel that way to you also?
It felt the same way for me and I’m hoping that it’s not just because I’m calling it for the first time. I’m optimistic that this is going to launch it into really special territory.
If you could make changes to the format, what would you do?
Obviously, you don’t want Edwin Diaz and Jose Altuve to get hurt. You could maybe look at something where you have pool play in March and then the semis and the championship or even the quarters 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 shut the season down for a week and it turns into this global event. There are no other sports going on then and you have the sports world’s attention. Think how big it was in March, when you’re competing with 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 just fine how it is.
What would you take from the WBC to incorporate into Major League Baseball?
I would bring the benches-clearing home run celebrations. Every ballplayer and every human being has a kid inside of them and Major League Baseball, for one reason or another, the tradition has been to suppress that. But there’s this buy-in now that you can let that kid out. All the guys that were part of the WBC appreciated that part about it. [Dodgers All-Star] Mookie Betts — who has won two World Series — told me that the greatest moment of his baseball life was meeting Trea Turner at home plate on that grand slam and having his entire team with them. I would love it if we had those kinds of celebrations.
You’ve now done the WBC, World Series and, of course, Dodger games. Which types of games do you prefer to call?
The World Series still stands alone. I don’t know that I’ll ever do anything that is better than that. But the WBC went from being in the way of my “real season” to something that I enjoyed as much as anything I’ve ever done. I would put the WBC right below my World Series experience, especially the end of the championship game.
The Dodgers added MLB Network’s Steven Nelson to the booth this season. How many games will you be calling, and how many will you be doing together with Orel Hershiser?
Orel is actually going to do some road games this year. I am doing fewer Dodger games this year, which is just the nature of my Fox deal. But we’ll do a lot together and I’ll still be working with the other analysts.
There are a lot of new rules this season, including the addition of a pitch clock as part of a larger effort to improve pace of play. How is the game’s accelerated pace affecting you and your job in the broadcast booth?
I love the pitch clock; I think it’s going to be so good for baseball. After a month, you’re not even going to realize the clock’s there; you’re just going to feel the benefit of it. As far as calling games — and famous last words here because I haven’t done any spring training games with the clock — but I can count on one hand how many times in my career I have wished that I had more time. I never want more time. Our best broadcasts come when the pitchers are working quickly and you’re leaning forward in your seat instead of slouching back wondering when the next pitch is going to come. The only person that needs more time and deserves more time is Vin Scully, and none of us are Vin Scully, and none of us are ever going to be so we don’t need a bunch of time between pitches. We need balls in play and we’ll tell the stories that we’re going to tell. It’s the nature of a two-man booth versus what Vin was doing.
Beyond the clock, the shift has been eliminated, the bases are now giant pizza boxes and there’s a cap on the number of times a pitcher can throw over to first. Which of these new rules do you think will make the biggest difference to the game outside of the pitch clock?
Between the pickoff limits and the larger bases, I think you could see the running game take off. The shift limit should mean more base hits, which is more action. It all leads toward more moving pieces and more things to watch. And we all prefer to watch a stolen base and a base hit and a ball in the gap over a strikeout, as cool as it is to see Clayton Kershaw drop a curveball for strike three. The game had kind of drifted and I don’t think that’s great for anybody.
You talked about Vin Scully and his remarkable ability to tell stories that were always the exact perfect length of an inning. How do you feel about your own sense of the rhythms of the game and how well you feel like you know how to integrate yourself into those rhythms?
I think that I have a good feel and rhythm for the game. I’ve worked really hard on storytelling. I’ve studied it like it’s a discipline and have talked with great storytellers and have listened to Vin for years. You’re only going to be as good as the amount of practice you put into it. And I’ve done that throughout my seven or eight years of doing this. I’m not Vin and I never will be. But I’d like to think that I’m better than I was last year and a lot better than I was eight years ago but not as good as I’m going to be at the end of this year.
The Dodgers recently announced that there was going to 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 something that you do every game that you either learned from him or that you do to pay your respects to him?
There’s nothing formal that I do. But the appreciation for the role of storytelling in a baseball broadcast came from that 2016 season when Vin was only doing the home games, and I was doing the road games. We didn’t have any crossover because of the natural difference in schedule. But part of my job was to obviously watch the games that I wasn’t doing. I would listen to Vin every minute of every home game. And as a fan, I loved hearing his stories. I knew that if I loved it, that storytelling would be the expectation from Dodger fans because it’s all they’ve had since the team’s been in L.A. and I knew that I needed to incorporate it. We’re a storytelling species. We all want to hear stories and to know that these players are a little bit like us. Storytelling is a way to humanize them. That seed was planted by appreciating the way Vin did his job.
You had the incredibly difficult job of telling Dodger fans during a game broadcast against the Giants that Vin had died. I remember watching and feeling that it was one of the most emotional baseball games I’ve ever watched because you told story after story about Vin for the entire game. How do you reflect back on the way you handled it?
I knew how crushing it would be to everybody that Vin had passed. I didn’t fully appreciate, in that moment, my role in delivering the message. I looked at it as a great responsibility to be the first to eulogize him. I didn’t necessarily realize until after the game that night when I saw I had hundreds of text messages and emails from people. I knew that this was going to hit people hard. I knew that I needed to do a good job eulogizing him. I just didn’t realize what doing a good job eulogizing him would mean to people. We took a lot of pride in what we were able to do that night.
Was that something that you’d prepared for?
No. We knew that Vin wasn’t doing well. But I found out in the bottom of the third inning that he had passed away and as we come back, we knew the Dodgers social media account was going to post the news and that’s when we decided to announce during the telecast. From there, it was a night of trying to balance the game — it’s fitting that they were playing the Giants when this happened — and do justice to the greatest baseball broadcaster that ever lived. Vin had eulogized somebody on the air before. But it’s not like there’s a blueprint for this. But there was a blueprint in how 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 by everything I had learned through osmosis from listening to him.
TV’s Top 5 is, of course, a television podcast — except for when we delight our listeners by talking about baseball. So, we have to ask: Have you watched Brockmire?
I’ve seen like two episodes of it. I had a chance to be in an episode and it just didn’t line up with my schedule. I think I would like it. It’s probably a little crude 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 segment five of this week’s TV’s Top 5.
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