National Geographic has done me wrong.
It’s not that the debut of “Inside Fenway” on PBS this week was in any way a mismatched production, because it was tremendously directed and narrated (Thank you, Will Hunting).
But I have to think I’m not the only one who watched the documentary then sat back and thought …
This is Tom Werner’s TV show.
I hate to think that brands like National Geographic or PBS would surrender to the relentless Yawkey Way PR in their endeavors, but what we witnessed in the latter half of the Fenway Park 100th anniversary documentary would seem to say otherwise. What we expected was a deep, one-hour retrospective on the history of the old ballyard, rich with vintage clips and tales from those who knew the place when. (Not that Mike Barnicle can’t weave a tale, but did he build the place? Enough.)
In the end, we got a Fenway Park advertisement. And we didn’t even get a Curious George tote bag in return.
If there were any more bowing at the feet of the Red Sox ownership for preserving Fenway Park, the producers would have had their heads in the sand. Look, for better or worse, Fenway is what it is. It is a national icon that should be preserved for all time. Whether or not baseball should be played there is up for debate.
But I have never witnessed such glorification since Adam Richman ripped into a five cheese nacho plate.
Was Fenway ever the dump that Matt Damon tried to tell us it was? Maybe. Was former CEO John Harrington right in attempting to build a new, modern park? You’re damn right he was.
Yet the documentary portrays Harrington as some evil dictator, as if the words, “Tear down this wall” ever had any negative effect on modern humanity. The plan was solid. The latter proposal for the waterfront was even better.
But yet here we are. Fenway 100. Chuck Steinberg is in a five-point stance, ready to unleash the fury.
It is a yard esteemed in history, of course, but we love Wahconah Park too. There’s a reason why that place is irrelevant for sports.
Oh, it’s a tourist attraction for sure. As far as watching a baseball game, the place is horrid.
But that is no matter to National Geographic, which saw the need to give John Henry, Larry Lucchino, and Werner a luxurious backrub in advance of the 100th anniversary ceremonies to which we will all soon be succumbed. The final 10 minutes of the documentary are nothing but a lavish lovefest for Red Sox ownership, who “saved” Fenway from the wrecking ball.
And to think, we could be heading to the park in a fortnight for Opening Day in the newly-energetic Seaport. Pfft.
Let’s not kid ourselves, the Red Sox had been working for this documentary for years now, the culmination of their “saving Fenway.” Werner, who has produced such TV shows such as “Hank,” “Good Girls Don’t,” “Whoopi,” “These Guys,” and “Peep Show,” may not have had editorial control of the documentary, but you can bet he had influence.
There’s a moment later in the show when Mayor Tom Menino talks about the process of building the seats atop The Wall. They call them Monster Seats now, even though anybody affiliated with the Red Sox prior to 2002 knows that referring to the “Green Monster” was about on par with saying “Beantown” in Boston.
“Are you crazy?” Menino allegedly says in the show (We really can’t tell).
The seats were, of course, installed, in addition to numerous lipstick improvements on the Yawkey Way hog. A sellout streak conveniently began, and fans are apt to only get tickets at secondary scalpers and the like.
Ah. An American Icon.
There is also a ridiculously ironic moment in the documentary that notes that Fenway was built in lieu of the museums and opera houses being built across town for the “Brahmin” society. Fenway was, indeed, for the common folk.
Today, the average fan can neither afford a ticket, nor wants to deal with the privileged atmosphere that has become Fenway Park.
Good times never felt so old.